More than half of the bison in one of the largest wild herds in the United States of the iconic animals would be killed by hunters under a plan unveiled Thursday by federal wildlife officials.
SALMON, Idaho -- More than half of the bison in one of the largest wild herds in the United States of the iconic animals would be killed by hunters under a plan unveiled Thursday by federal wildlife officials.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said reducing the bison population in the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming to 500 from 1,100 is necessary because of overgrazing and because many carry brucellosis, a disease that can spread to cattle.
Additionally, the refuge's elk herd of 6,700 should be pared to 5,000 through hunting, officials said.
Both measures seek to reduce the number of animals foraging in the 25,000-acre refuge's fragile winter range.
The Wildlife Service also proposed to cut back feeding the herds, a century-old practice established at the refuge to ensure their survival. Under the program, wildlife managers drop up to 40 tons of feed daily across the refuge.
Bison, a symbol of the American West that are often called buffalo, have traditionally not been hunted in the refuge because they attract tourists; activists have waged a years-long battle to prevent it.
Wildlife biologists say the refuge cannot sustain the number of bison -- each is equivalent to three elk in weight and impact on the environment -- but animal rights groups say federal and state wildlife agencies have created the problem by feeding the animals.
"You can't continue to artificially inflate the numbers of bison and then say, 'We have to shoot them,"' said Jonathan Lovvorn, a lawyer for the Fund for Animals and a vice president for the U.S. Humane Society. "We also have concerns about hunting a semi-tame animal, concerns about fair chase."
If residents of the nearby resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, had their way, neither bison nor elk would be culled. The herds exist because the community pushed to create a refuge providing winter range for wildlife displaced by the founding of the exclusive ski community.
"We've had a tug-of-war for years between those who want more buffalo and those who want less; they'll just have to come to some sort of understanding," said National Elk Refuge Manager Barry Reiswig.
Wildlife officials hope reducing the herds while boosting the native forage will allow them to decrease the feeding operation without causing the animals to suffer.
Doug Brimeyer, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the agency expects to issue licenses this fall to hunt several hundred bison.