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Yellowstone says "Biobullets" for Bison Won't Work

January 14, 2014
Montana Bison   USDA NRCS
Bison from Yellowstone National Park will not be vaccinated with a "biobullet" to help decrease the spread of brucellosis.  
 
 

By: Matthew Brown, Associated Press

Shooting wild bison with vaccine-laced "biobullets" to prevent the spread of disease to livestock would be too ineffective to justify the expense, Yellowstone National Park administrators said Tuesday.

The announcement means a program that has led to the capture and slaughter of more than 2,300 bison that migrated into Montana over the last decade will continue — with little immediate hope of eradicating the disease that's to blame.

About half of the 4,600 bison tested positive for exposure to brucellosis. The disease is feared by ranchers because it can cause pregnant cows to prematurely abort their young.

Other measures also are used to control Yellowstone's burgeoning bison herd, including hunting and using helicopters and ATVs to drive the animals back into the park. That has had little or no impact on infection rates, and with the backing of livestock interests, park officials in 2010 proposed shooting bison with absorbable, vaccine-laced bullets to prevent transmissions to cattle.

But park officials made clear Tuesday that they have lost interest in spending $9 million over three decades on an effort they concluded would yield minimal results.

"We don't think it makes any sense to spend millions of taxpayer dollars and invest 30 years of effort in hopes of a small reduction in the prevalence of bison," Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk said. A final decision will be made after a 30-day public review period.

Yellowstone's chief scientist, David Hallac said the government will continue "opportunistic" vaccinations of some captured bison using syringes. Only a small percentage of bison captured by state and federal workers in past years have been vaccinated.

Montana Stockgrowers Association Vice President Errol Rice said he is disappointed the park was unwilling to put more resources toward combatting brucellosis in wildlife.

Rice said the livestock industry has done its part, agreeing to mandatory testing and vaccinations of cattle in areas of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho surrounding the 2.6 million-acre park.

"It's been costly for (cattle) producers," he said. "It just makes doing business in this part of the world much harder."

Brucellosis was first introduced to the Yellowstone area by infected cattle. It has been largely eradicated elsewhere in the country but persists in Yellowstone's wildlife.

Hallac pointed out that diseased elk, not bison, have been blamed for cattle infections. Those include 19 cows and 14 domestic bison that tested positive in Montana since 2007, in some cases triggering trade sanctions from other states.

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