More than two dozen bison near West Yellowstone were rounded up, loaded onto trucks and hauled back into Yellowstone National Park on Thursday, according to bison advocates and the state wildlife department.
In a written statement, the Buffalo Field Campaign said 27 bison — 12 newborn calves, 12 mothers and three 2-year-old animals — were captured at the Montana Department of Livestock’s Duck Creek trap, which is located on private land on the western edge of the park.
The animals were released at Fountain Flats inside Yellowstone in the early afternoon, according to the bison watchdog group’s statement.
“While we hail the decision not to slaughter these animals, we are deeply disappointed in Montana’s stubborn refusal to let wild bison be wild bison,” Dan Brister, executive director of the Buffalo Field Campaign, wrote in the statement. “How long will we treat our last wild bison like livestock, separate newborn calves from their mothers, and allow the Department of Livestock to dictate their fate?”
DOL spokesman Steve Merritt said the intent was to get the bison back into the park in the most efficient way possible.
“They had been hazed a couple of times, and we didn’t want to put any more stress on the cow-calf pairs,” he said.
Merritt said this was the first time he had heard of livestock officials simply loading bison onto trucks and moving them, rather than hazing them back into the park.
He said he didn’t know whether trucks would be used to move any more of the bison that remain outside the park’s boundaries. Decisions about hazing operations are evaluated on a day-by-day basis, he said.
On May 14, U.S. District Judge Charles C. Lovell issued a 14-day restraining order barring the use of helicopters in hazing operations near the park. Wildlife advocates had argued that the helicopters could harm grizzly bears in the area.
Helicopter hazing would have been the best option, said John Youngberg, vice president of government affairs for the Montana Farm Bureau. It’s the fastest and easiest hazing method and puts less stress on the bison than loading them into trucks and hauling them long distances, he said.
“This is an option I don’t think they envisioned would happen, but this is one of the few options they have left,” Youngberg said. “I don’t think this is probably the best for the bison, I’ll tell you that up front.”
Each winter, bison migrate about 10 miles out of the park to drop their calves in the area between the park boundary and Hebgen Lake.
The fear is that the bison will transmit brucellosis to cattle in the area, so each spring, the Department of Livestock and other agencies force the bison back into the park — usually by May 15. That gives about 30 days leeway before ranchers start moving their cattle to the area in mid-June.