The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has enlisted the help of Academy-Award winning actor and activist Jared Leto to help promote an option under consideration to ship hundreds of buffalo to a quarantine facility on the Fort Peck Reservation, rather than killing the herds when they leave the park this winter and spring.
When the buffalo’s population reaches about 3,000, many of them begin leaving the park and head north to Montana in search of food. As part of a compromise between the National Park Service and the state of Montana, the animals that leave—between 600 and 900—are culled due to the fear of the herds spreading disease to cattle.
Animals that leave the park are either hazed back into the park or culled through several ways: public hunts, tribal huts and ship-to-slaughter, the WWF said.
Leto, age 44, an Oscar winner in 2014 for acting in The Dallas Buyers Club, wrote a letter on the WWF website asking supporters to write a letter to the National Park Service in support of an alternative in the Yellowstone Bison Quarantine Plan Environmental Assessment, that would send the herds to an already constructed quarantine facility at Fort Peck that would ensure bison would become part of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes’ cultural and conservation herd.
Leto toured the bison herds at Yellowstone National Park last year.
The deadline for the public to write a letter is February 13. Those interested can go to the World Wildlife Fund website and click on “A message from Jared Leto,” or visit the National Park Service website at the bottom of this article, which also contains information for a written letter to the park superintendent.
The quarantine ensures the bison are free of brucellosis, which ranchers fear can spread to and from bison to cattle. The culling of bison has taken place for the past 16 years and remains a controversial issue, with some experts claiming that there has never been an instance of bison-to-cattle transmission.
In his letter to supporters, Leto said: “Right now, Yellowstone National Park is the premiere site for bison restoration in the U.S. However, there are restrictions in place that force park officials to kill bison when the herd count gets higher than 3,000 and bison leave the park. With your help, I'd like to change that,” he stated.
“Fort Peck tribes in northern Montana have established a quarantine site that is now ready and waiting to host surplus Yellowstone bison. The National Park Service is now evaluating whether to use the site as their preferred alternative location for surplus bison.
Tell the National Park Service you support Fort Peck as the Preferred Alternative and help us contribute to conservation and cultural restoration efforts in North America. For thousands of years, the plains bison provided food and shelter for tribal communities across the Northern Great Plains. Today, Native Americans have the opportunity to do the same for the bison in return,” Leto said.
By the end of January, 200,000 letters had been sent to the National Park Service in support of the Fort Peck option, WWF Bison Initiative Coordinator and Program Officer Dennis Jorgenson said. Typically, there are 50,000 responses to an NPS environmental assessment.
The EA analyzes three alternatives to evaluate a quarantine program for Yellowstone Bison at one or more new quarantine facilities, which could be located within Yellowstone National Park, on tribal lands, or elsewhere.
* Alternative 1 is no action. Bison operations would continue as they currently are with no quarantine of bison.
* Alternative 2 includes conducting a quarantine program within Yellowstone National Park.
* Alternative 3 includes conducting a quarantine program on the Fort Peck Reservation and is the NPS preferred alternative.
The NPS is inviting public comment and engagement on the EA pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The EA can be found online. To request a hard copy of the EA, call 307-344-2015.
Respondents are encouraged to submit their comments online through the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website. Comments may also be hand-delivered to the park administration building, or mailed to: Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 82190. Comments will not be accepted by fax, e-mail or in any manner other than those specified above. Bulk comments submitted in any format on behalf of others will not be accepted. The deadline to submit comments is midnight Mountain Time on February 15.
Once comments are analyzed, a decision on whether to implement the plan will be made by the regional director of the Intermountain Region of the NPS. If approved in time, the NPS may implement a quarantine program during the 2016 bison management operations period.