The National Park Service recently made public its analysis of a proposed 30-year $9-million vaccination program that would use air rifles to shoot “bio-bullets” at bison in Yellowstone National Park.
The proposal, designed to reduce the spread of brucellosis from bison to cattle outside the park’s borders holds the possibility of reducing legendary tensions between ranchers and bison advocates. But at what cost?
As reported by Cory Hatch in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, NPS documents show the vaccine could create a more virulent form of the bacteria that cause the disease. Also, the analysis shows that only about 25 percent of the bison that could be vaccinated would be vaccinated.
If it the program gets off the gorund, the idea is that officials would use special dissolving bullets to release the vaccine, SRB51, under an animal’s skin.
“Using less-effective vaccines or delivering the vaccine to a relatively small proportion of the eligible animals can lead to adaptive changes in the disease pathogen that select for variants able to evade the immunological response induced by the vaccine,” the draft environmental document reads.
Since 2000, efforts to protect the park’s bison while also insulating regional livestock against the threat of transmission have fallen to the Interagency Bison Management Program. The IBMP is a cooperative effort of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, The U.S. Forest Service, Animal & Plant Health Inspection Services, Montana Department of Livestock and the National Parks Service.
But brucellosis in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana is seeped in a historical tradition that extends far beyond the last decade. And the conflict that has arisen out of brucellosis and bison management is one that involves environmental advocates, park officials and ranchers.
As Al Nash, the public spokesman for the park told NewWest.net, “All of us involved understand that history and understand why this issue is of such importance to the livestock community. There’s no denying it has that history and it is a very sensitive issue, but so is the issue of bison.”
“Our goal at the park is to look for ways that we can work with our partners to increase tolerance for bison outside the park boundaries and producing this draft environmental impact is a component that we believe moves us in that positive direction,” said Nash.
The proposal, of course, has its fair share of critics. “We have to ask if using air guns with a paint chamber and a vaccination chamber is the way we want to see wildlife managed,” said Patricia Down of the National Parks Conservation Association, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “How does that affect not only the wildlife but also the visitor experience?”
These criticisms, although important, “are outside the scope of what we’re trying to study,” said Nash. “There are a lot of a questions about bison, but we’re not trying to address all of them in this document.”
Nash acknowledged there are certainly bigger issues, but “we aren’t trying to solve all of them in this draft. The bottom line is that over a long period of time with a lot of money we believe we could reduce the prevalence of the disease but not eliminate it. …This plan was never intended to eliminate brucellosis. I mean under current circumstances it that even possible?”