My comments on Seelye's article.
By Ralph Maughan
This is an interesting article, but it plows old ground and doesn't turn over the clods of dirt to look what's under the surface.
Like most articles on the bison that rely on official commentary, the focus is on Yellowstone National Park where in rate of infection of brucellosis in bison is relatively low and there are very few cattle adjacent to the bison outside the Park. The article totally ignores Jackson Hole to the south of Yellowstone where almost all of the bison are infected and yet they mingle freely with cattle.
Seelye doesn't tell us that elimination of the brucellosis from the bison, even were it possible, is pointless because many of the elk are infected and would quickly spread it back to the bison.
The one place where she starts to undercover the total contradiction in policy is when she writes:
"One curiosity of this situation is that no one has confirmed any cases in the wild of brucellosis transmission to cattle from bison. But there has been confirmed transmission by elk, as occurred last year in Idaho. But since elk hunting is a favorite sport in this region, elk are not singled out for methodical slaughter as bison are. This leads some here to perceive a bias against bison that dates from the days of the Wild West, when the United States Army slaughtered thousands of bison as a way to undermine the Indians, who depended on them for food, clothing and spiritual sustenance."
Unfortunately, she doesn't not follow it up.
The state-fed veterinarian/cattle industry establishment constantly hold out the dire threat of bison giving brucellosis to the cattle, but the one time when it really happened, it was elk, not bison that transmitted the disease to cattle, and it took place in Idaho, not Montana. Moreover, the elk responsible were not Yellowstone elk, but elk that got the disease from the Jackson Hole brucellosis hot spot. Even more ironic is that the state of Idaho did not lose its "brucellosis free" status, the threat which is always brought up by the vets as a justification for going after Yellowstone bison. The truth is, in the remote chance a herd of Montana cattle got brucellosis from elk or bison, the government would not revoke the brucellosis free status. It is a bluff. The bluff has already been called and the media did not pick up on the fact.
Yes, the media did over the infected cattle story last winter, but not very much. In other words, the real thing got much less play than the perpetual din of threat from the veterinary bureaucrats.
As far as the notion that there are too many bison in Yellowstone, the concept of carrying capacity is not appropriate to large wildland ecosystems and it is not applied to other wildlife in Yellowstone Park, although ag interests have in the past imposed it on elk until there were shouted down by the elk hunters.
The carrying capacity concept is value laden concept from agriculture interests. They are trying to impose their views on people who love the national parks and other wildcountry by means of a vastly inflated threat of disease. These ag interests disrespect Yellowstone. They don't see the great Park as much more than a big farm with hot springs.
My values say they are attacking our country's national natural heritage.
Received from a reader on Jan. 26, 2003.
The reference to the NAS study is interesting. Anti-bison folk use it as the
holy bible of bison mgt. But the study never made a conclusion about
carrying capacity. Instead it used sloppy data analysis to show that even
when controlling for snow totals, temperatures, etc, it is the size of the
herd that determines bison migration and that at 4000 the herd migration
gets larger. But there are huge problems with this data. First, there are
too limited data points. Second, they have imprecise measures of snow
and temperatures. They use Mammoth Hot Springs data in equations to
predict bison migration at West Yellowstone. Third, certainly the more
bison in the Park, the more that will migrate outside the park. this is
like the old finding that the more money a state has the more money they
spend on education. Two years ago, I gave a talk on this issue at the
__________ Medical Association meeting (as a favor to my doctor) and
they laughed at the '"scientific findings" of the NAS study.