BILLINGS, Mont. - The number of Yellowstone National Park bison killed through disease management and hunting is on track to hit an all-time high this winter, after another 87 animals were captured Friday.
The planned slaughter of those animals would bring to 1,090 the number of bison killed by government agencies and hunters this winter. The prior high mark was 1,084, in 1997.
Of this year's total, the overwhelming majority were captured to guard against the spread of brucellosis by bison leaving the park. That's a disease carried by some bison and feared by the cattle industry because it can cause pregnant cows to abort their calves.
The mounting death toll in Yellowstone this winter underscores the difficulty government agencies have had in finding a lasting solution to the disease. A state-federal agreement signed in 2000 was intended to give bison more room to roam outside the park over time, but that has largely not happened.
Government officials blame funding constraints, difficulties developing a brucellosis vaccine and opposition from the livestock industry.
But critics fault the agencies involved in the 2000 agreement - the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Department of Livestock - for continuing to slaughter bison even in areas where cattle no longer graze.
"It just seems they're really intent on killing as many buffalo as they can this year," said Dan Brister with the Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy group.