By Emily Stifler
On Tuesday, February 15, Montana’s Governor Brian Schweitzer made an executive order that prohibited wildlife officials from transporting any of the Yellowstone National Park bison to be transported into Montana. Over 500 bison are being held near Gardiner, Montana, just outside the Park. More than 200 of them have tested positive for brucellosis. All infected animals had been slated for slaughter—a subject of hot debate in the past weeks.
Schweitzer, a democrat and third generation rancher, reasoned that transporting the animals presented “an unacceptable risk for the transmission of brucellosis to Montana livestock.” While brucellosis is harmless to bison, it can cause cattle and other wildlife to abort their young. There has never been a recorded case of bison infecting cattle.
Native American tribes, Yellowstone-area residents and conservation groups had filed suit to stop the slaughter.
The Governor’s surprise last-minute decree overruled U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell’s decision that would have allowed officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior to go ahead with the killings at Montana facilities.
In the past, the Montana Department of Livestock has helped coordinate similar large-scale bison slaughters. The Governor’s order references new legislation introduced in 2011, proposing “sweeping changes to bison management in Montana.”
Schweitzer called his decision “a direct signal to the Department of Interior in Washington D.C. to get their hat screwed on right and manage this bison population.” He also suggested the Park Service bring in hay to feed the captured bison.
The executive order holds for 90 days—theoretically enough time for winter conditions in the Park to abate and allow the animals to return to higher ground.
The most recent estimate counted 3700 bison in Yellowstone. Historically, nearly 60 million filled the plains between Mexico and Canada.