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Wildlife advocates ask federal judge to halt slaughter of Yellowstone bison

Riders from Yellowstone National Park and Montana’s Department of Livestock drove bison across a road on Tuesday. Riders from Yellowstone National Park and Montana’s Department of Livestock drove bison across a road on Tuesday. (Buffalo Field Campaign via Associated Press)
Associated Press / February 4, 2011

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BILLINGS, Mont. — Wildlife advocates yesterday asked a federal judge in Montana to stop the impending slaughter of many of the hundreds of bison captured this week as they attempted to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park.

The request for a temporary injunction and restraining order would prevent the National Park Service and other federal agencies from shipping to slaughter bison that test positive for exposure to the disease brucellosis. Those shipments were expected to begin this week.

More than 300 bison left the snowed-in park in recent days in search of food at lower elevations. They were turned back by park workers and state livestock agents to prevent any contact between bison and livestock, which could lead to the spread of brucellosis.

The disease causes cattle, bison, and some other animals to prematurely abort their young. Roughly half of Yellowstone’s estimated 3,900 bison have been exposed to the disease, although the rate of active infection is lower.

But there have been no recorded cattle-to-bison brucellosis transmissions, and few cattle remain in the immediate vicinity of the park. Wildlife advocates said those conditions should allow government agencies to ease their restrictions on where bison can move.

“The Park Service is violating their mission to allow natural regulation’’ of bison, said Glenn Hockett with the Gallatin Wildlife Association, one of the plaintiffs in the federal case. “The alternative to slaughter that they’ve ignored is habitat.’’

The case is before US District Judge Charles Lovell in Helena. Lovell was also asked to close the park’s Stephens Creek capture facility, the corrals where the 300-plus bison are being held for disease testing.

Park officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for the Montana Stockgrowers Association said the livestock group is tracking the case and remains wary of any move to expand where bison can roam outside Yellowstone.

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