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Hazation without representation.
May 9, 2008 9:23 AM   Subscribe

The unprecedented slaughter of over 1600 of Yellowstone's bison this winter (resulting in a 50% decrease in the overall size of the herd) will go down as the largest wild bison kill since the 19th century. Despite vehement protests and bold acts of civil disobedience instigated by the Buffalo Field Campaign, the slaughter will continue according to the tax-payer supported Bison Interagency Plan - the goal of the plan being to prevent economic losses from the unlikely spread of brucellosis (a cattle disease) from Yellowstone bison into Montana and Wyoming's livestock. TERRA aired a gripping three-part 'fly-on-the-wall' film series chronicling the story: ONE, TWO, THREE.

Furthermore, the dwindling Yellowstone population is among the critical fraction of genetically 'non-hybridized' bison remaining in the United States. Adding fuel to the fire, a controversial new deal pays the syncretistic-doomsday cult the Church Universal and Triumphant $3 million for the rights to allow bison to migrate onto their Royal Teton Ranch during winter.
posted by huckhound (39 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
This "slaughter" happens every year. It's nothing unusual. And the population isn't "dwindling".
posted by Ragma at 9:57 AM on May 9, 2008


huckhound, thanks so much for such a comprehensive post.

the ongoing hazing and slaughter of the yellowstone buffalo are some of the most despicable acts in recent american history.
posted by CitizenD at 9:58 AM on May 9, 2008


ragma: cite your sources.

yes, for nearly 10 years there has been some slaughter annually. however, the magnitude of this year's slaughter dwarfs any previous years. eliminating half the herd in a single year is an abomination.

buckhound has provided some excellent sources documenting what's going on. perhaps you should read them.
posted by CitizenD at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2008


"slaughter"

How is this term not applicable to killing 1600 wild buffalo?

As for being unusual: All it takes for something to be "usual" to to do it a lot. It doesn't have to be right.
posted by DU at 10:05 AM on May 9, 2008


You guys ever read "The Incarceration of Wildness: Wilderness Areas As Prisons," by Thomas Birch? Unfortunately some of the best pages are cut out from the preview, but it's worth reading the entire essay. The basic idea is that people don't know how to deal with wildness in the context of organized western civilization, so we imprison it in prisons, asylums, and also wilderness areas.
[Park Service spokesman Al] Nash explained the situation in its simplest terms:

"Bison are bison. Bison are nomadic animals. Bison are looking for food. Food is difficult and scarce to come by at the end of the winter. They're leaving the interior of the park [and going] to lower places, in part, to look for food. There's limited tolerance for bison outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park."

That's because just two cases of brucellosis would trigger stringent limits on export of cattle from Montana.

"Montana has spent millions of dollars over the years to get brucellosis eradicated from our livestock," said Martin Davis, who has a cattle ranch within roaming distance north of the park. "And to put that in jeopardy -- no one wants that to happen." ...

Under the management plan, rangers and cowboys hired by various government agencies try to harass stray animals back onto park property. Officials shoot animals that can't be persuaded. (Ranchers are not permitted to kill wild bison).
People try to eradicate a wild disease. It still resides in wild populations. Now, if the wild populations try to leave the designated wilderness area, they get shot. It sounds like some are getting shot to eradicate the disease on the suspicion that they may leave some day. To me, this perfectly illustrate's Birch's claims.
posted by salvia at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2008


I don't approve of the wholesale slaughter of bison, but if bison must be killed, then I hope that I get to eat some of them.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:16 AM on May 9, 2008


"yes, for nearly 10 years there has been some slaughter annually."

Close to 35 years actually. Though the Brucellosis specific hunts didn't start until 1990. Please note that 18 is not "nearly" 10, even if we discount the official park border hunts going back to the early 1970s.

"perhaps you should read them."

I lived most of my life in that area of the country. I've read them, just as I read things like this "nearly" 20 years ago. Even if the herd had been cut in half it's still larger than it was for the vast majority of the last 100 years. And cutting the population in half isn't uncommon in the parks recent history. After a similar event nearly ten years ago Yellowstone bison population in March of 1997 was estimated to be approximately 1,200 to 1,500 animals.

Many many more deer and elk are "slaughtered" and eaten every year in Montana. I don't see anyone suggesting this is a tragic thing.

They are fine. I dare say if you go to the park in a few months you wouldn't notice the difference.
posted by Ragma at 10:30 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


if you go to the park in a few months you wouldn't notice the difference

Almost as poor an excuse as being "not unusual".
posted by DU at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2008


I don't approve of the wholesale slaughter of bison, but if bison must be killed, then I hope that I get to eat some of them.

Ted's Montana Grill

Bison burgers are a little on the dry side, though.
posted by fixedgear at 10:35 AM on May 9, 2008


On the subject of the taste of bison meat, I've always loved how William T. Hornaday in his The Extermination of the American Bison described pemmican as having "a 'far away' taste which continually reminds one of hoofs and horns."

The growth in interest in bison meat is perhaps a hopeful sign of a growing desire to restore some of the Great Plains to its condition of 200 years ago.
posted by No Robots at 10:49 AM on May 9, 2008


"Almost as poor an excuse as being "not unusual"."

I don't need an excuse for anything, since the number of bison is up.

Over the last ten years the number of bison in the park is up, even with the events given in this post. The numbers are up. As in more bison. As in bigger numbers being larger than smaller numbers. What is wrong? I'm asking.

People in Montana shoot deer that wander into their backyards and eat them. Is that wrong too?
posted by Ragma at 10:51 AM on May 9, 2008


When I think about the fact the there were 500,000,000 of these animals in North America just a few centuries back... it makes me sick.

Don't get me started on the passenger pigeon.
posted by chuckdarwin at 11:01 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


American Bison Society: The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Ecological Future of Bison in North America

In depth discussion with one rancher about the idea of bison restoration

American Prairie Foundation: Bison Restoration

Genetic & practical issues related to bison restoration (article abstract)
posted by salvia at 11:10 AM on May 9, 2008


ragma: still waiting for citation beyond "i lived in that area for......." the "number of bison is up????" oh really? up from what? says who, the government? the ranchers?

and poo-pooing my comment because i got the number of years wrong (10 instead of 18) doesn't cut it.

if you'd bother to check the "non-hybridized" link above, you'd perhaps understand why slaughtering half the herd is NOT akin to "shoot(ing) deer that wander" into someone's backyard.

not, i'm not a crazy animal-rights freak. i don't condemn hunting (although i think TROPHY hunting is abominable), nor do i criticize others for eating meat. what i DO rail against is the taxpayer-funded mismanagement of the lone herd of yellowstone buffalo, for the sake of ranchers' future political donations.
posted by CitizenD at 11:14 AM on May 9, 2008


People in Montana shoot deer that wander into their backyards and eat them. Is that wrong too?

I don't know about right or wrong, but one crucial difference here is that deer didn't almost go extinct, so they have more genetic diversity (which is really important to species survival over the long run).
posted by salvia at 11:18 AM on May 9, 2008


Good post. Thanks, huckhound.
posted by homunculus at 11:45 AM on May 9, 2008


This "slaughter" happens every year. It's nothing unusual. And the population isn't "dwindling".

No, but it is losing heterozygosity.
posted by The White Hat at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2008


People in Montana shoot deer that wander into their backyards and eat them. Is that wrong too?

No, no-- it's an excellent idea.

I hope you and your like-minded friends will continue to do it.
posted by jamjam at 12:29 PM on May 9, 2008


some of the most despicable acts in recent american history

It's a good thing we have hyperbole, because without it we'd all be dead.
posted by flaterik at 12:57 PM on May 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Charles C. Mann's intriguing 1491 argues that the massive bison and passenger pigeon populations in North America in the 18th & 19th century were not a "natural" state but the result of the die-off of Native American populations that had kept those species in check. From the Atlantic article that became the book.

Hernando de Soto's expedition stomped through the Southeast for four years and apparently never saw bison. More than a century later, when French explorers came down the Mississippi, they saw "a solitude unrelieved by the faintest trace of man," the nineteenth-century historian Francis Parkman wrote. Instead the French encountered bison, "grazing in herds on the great prairies which then bordered the river."

...After disease killed off the Indians, Kay believes, buffalo vastly extended their range. Their numbers more than sextupled. The same occurred with elk and mule deer.

posted by stargell at 1:44 PM on May 9, 2008


Just a small factoid for the conversation: Ted Turner is the largest single-owner of land in Nebraska. He owns a huge chunk of northwestern NE where he's raising Bison for food. The meat is leaner and lower in cholesterol than cow-meat (not personally a fan, but have tried it).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:21 PM on May 9, 2008


If it's a question of brucellosis transmission (a single incidence of which has never been recorded), why not just kill the diseased bison? It couldn't be too difficult; there's only ~3000 bison in the park.

But, of course, none of this would be a problem if these ranchers weren't raising cattle in a goddamn national park.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:04 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


the goal of the plan being to prevent economic losses from the unlikely spread of brucellosis

Meanwhile the Feds sue to prevent meat processors from doing BSE testing on 100% of their meat.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:17 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I think about the fact the there were 500,000,000 of these animals in North America just a few centuries back... it makes me sick.


I think your numbers are a little inflated. Though some figures rise to nearly 60 million, revised numbers suggest that at the species’ peak around 1500 AD, close to 30 million buffalo grazed in North America. Shortly after that date, however, their population began declining due to the introduction horse-mounted buffalo hunting to the Native American cultures. The horse not only competed with the buffalo for roughage, but also changed the dynamic of the hunt into one far more damaging to the species. The gun and the plow, wielded by white settlers, made the greatest contributions to the Great Slaughter, though. With the 1849 gold rushes and homestead acts of the 1860s, settlers began developing the grasslands for agricultural purposes and replacing the native bluestem and bunchgrass with wheat, corn, and cotton. Known as the “great plow-up,” commercial agriculture destroyed close to 75% of the buffalo’s natural habitat, dividing it into two herds, northern and southern. The transcontinental railroad, finished in 1869, split the two herds permanently and lowered the transport costs of buffalo hides, making large-scale hunting economically feasible. Between 1870 and 1900, wholesale slaughter reduced the species’ numbers from 14 million to under 1,000.
posted by The White Hat at 6:11 PM on May 9, 2008


Oh, for those who are interested: Lott, Dale F. 2002. American Bison: A Natural Analysis. UC Press: Berkeley. 229 pp.
posted by The White Hat at 6:12 PM on May 9, 2008


Scientists always insist that they are official and legal linguistic police, but they are not.

As an everyman and an American, I'm telling you that the proper term is Buffalo. The title should read:

The unprecedented slaughter of over 1600 of Yellowstone's American Buffalo this winter

Come to think of it, this wording has a more emotional impact too.
posted by eye of newt at 11:13 PM on May 9, 2008


These are the same people who are killing endangered wolves becaue "OMG, they might eat a chicken!".

Fucking ranchers. Don't get me wrong, I eat meat. My husband's family runs cattle. I've on more than one occassion ridden the fence line on 1000+ acre steadsm and I've run hunters off private land. (I'm a little spooky when heavily armed. Especially when city slickers aren't sure that I *won't* just hide the body in a stock pond.) But the concessions that these Montana and Dakota's ranchers have gotten in the last couple of years is obscene.

I'm really close to going back to being a vegetarian. Not because I abhor meat...I love a rare steak, but because I cannot support the system subsidizes ranchers in these regions.
posted by dejah420 at 12:53 AM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that what we have here in America are properly termed "Bison." They resemble the buffaloes of Africa, which is why they are sometimes referred to as American Buffalo. But they are NOT buffaloes.
posted by davidmsc at 10:42 PM on May 10, 2008


Bison or buffalo? Let's take a look at some trinomial nomenclature, shall we?

Bison bison bison

I think we have a winner.

posted by Sys Rq at 8:50 AM on May 11, 2008


The American Buffalo was the first creature ever to be called 'Buffalo' in the 1600s. Only much later did scientists decide that not only should this ugly Asian Water Buffalo be also called a Buffalo, but that it is the only thing we are allowed to call Buffalo, and that the US majestic creature is now called a 'Bison' (or Bison Bison Bison, as Sys Rq mentions).

So are we going to let the scientists make up our common words? Is it a 'Bison Nickel"? Should Shakespeare have been thrown in jail for not properly saying "What's in a name? That which we call a rosa berberifolia by any other name would smell as sweet"?

Of course not.

It's a buffalo.
posted by eye of newt at 4:51 PM on May 11, 2008


Maybe we should listen to these scientists and change his nickname to "Bison Bill" or rename the city "Bison, NY", or maybe we should listen to our hearts and remember that we make up our own language--there is no official legal dictionary, and when scientists try to change our common well loved words to fit their cold exacting categories and start saying stuff like "Buffalo is incorrect" or "The correct name for the...", that we don't have to listen to them.

And to Sys Rq, I take your three, and raise you eight.
posted by eye of newt at 5:36 PM on May 11, 2008


Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the tiger and antelope do play...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:56 PM on May 11, 2008


I know this is three posts in a row and sounding like a crazy man in the park talking to himself (or talking on his bluetooths) and slightly off-topic, but I did more searching on the history of the word Buffalo.

Some say it was the French.

Some say it was the Portugese (which would give Water Buffalo the "I was here first" rights)

Some say it was an old Indian word and it came from the Portugese.

Most agree, however, that the American Buffalo was called a Buffalo long before it was called a Bison.

To bring it back to my original argument and to make it on-topic again, the American Buffalo creates strong emotional images in the US, as much as the American Bald Eagle. This emotional impact goes way down when you use the word Bison.

If we want to ensure that this strong American symbol survives, one step political step we need to do is to reclaim the orignal word and ignore the annoying nay-sayers.
posted by eye of newt at 7:06 PM on May 11, 2008


sounding like a crazy man in the park talking to himself

I'm eavesdropping then. No opinion on nomenclature mysefl, but the discussion is interesting. Do continue.
posted by salvia at 12:15 AM on May 12, 2008


Buffalo is generally believed to derive from the ancient Greek boubalos by way of the Latin bubalus/bufalus. The Portuguese called the water buffalo bufalo in 1588. It would be another fifty years before the term was applied to American bison (which wouldn't be called bison for yet another half-century); just who did so is open for debate, though I wouldn't bet on the Portuguese, as French or Spanish is much more likely. At any rate, yes, buffalo is (or, more accurately, was) technically incorrect in both cases (boubalos being, in actual fact, a type of antelope), but, yeah, 360 years is more than enough for it to stick. In common parlance, there's nothing wrong with calling them buffalo, and if it helps to win hearts and minds, go nuts. But still, I call them bison because in terms of taxonomy there's no question about it. See also.

Fun fact about bison: The American and European varieties are completely genetically compatible, and they're both (the European especially) currently inbred as fuck. Would it be so terrible to sacrifice the notion of "racial purity" or "pedigree" or whatever it might be called, to help save both groups?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:52 AM on May 12, 2008





People in Montana shoot deer that wander into their backyards and eat them. Is that wrong too?

No, no-- it's an excellent idea.

I hope you and your like-minded friends will continue to do it.


Um, there is no evidence that it is transmittable to humans. It doesn't even seem to transmit to cattle.
posted by melissam at 10:32 AM on May 12, 2008


buffalo is (or, more accurately, was) technically incorrect in both cases

Sys Rq, I agree with what you say except for this. Let me put it in another perspective.
Is it incorrect to say Mountain Lion, Cougar, Puma, or Panther? They all refer to the same animal, and none of them is the correct scientific name. Yet no one is going around saying "Mountain Lion is technically incorrect." Yet everyone goes around saying Buffalo is incorrect.

I think the solution is to clearly draw a line between the scientific term and the common term. If you insist on mentioning the scientific name you could say "Felis concolor, more commonly known as the Mountain Lion," or "The Bison, more commonly known as the American Buffalo", or even "The American Buffalo, known scientifically as the Bison, bison bison". For all other uses, just say American Buffalo. And for all the people, websites, and organizations that insist on saying that Buffalo is the incorrect term, you need to correct them and say that it is the incorrect scientific name, but very much the correct and historically important common name.

By saying American Buffalo, you avoid confusion with the eastern beast, and you are using the common historical term that has been in used and loved for close to 400 years.
posted by eye of newt at 8:03 AM on May 13, 2008


p.s. The European cousin that you mention, the Wisent, is mentioned throughout the web without anyone once saying, "Wisent is the incorrect term. It is a Bison"
posted by eye of newt at 8:08 AM on May 13, 2008


Interesting discussion and information -- thanks all. I understand that many people use - and will continue to use "buffalo" - and I'm fine with it. I just think the word "bison" sounds much cooler. Bison Bison Bison, ya know. Awesome.
posted by davidmsc at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2008


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