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Yellowstone National Park Proposes Slaughtering 1,000 Wild Bison

Yellowstone National Park Proposes Slaughtering 1,000 Wild Bison

Yellowstone National Park officials are proposing a plan to slaughter 1,000 bison—mostly females and calves—from its herd this winter. The reason for the cull is to lessen the risk of Yellowstone bison infecting cattle herds in Montana with brucellosis, a bacterial disease, officials said yesterday.

Yellowstone National Park is proposing to cull 1,000 bison—mostly females and calves—from its herd this winter.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Park officials will meet today with tribal leaders, state and other federal agencies to reach a decision on the exact number to kill. “No formal decision has been made, but the park proposal is for 1,000 fewer bison," park spokesperson Amy Bartlett said.

The annual cull is deeply controversial. Yellowstone bison are the last wild herd of bison in America with fewer than 5,000 left. The amount slaughtered varies from year to year, but a 1,000-bison slaughter would be the largest cull since the winter of 2007-2008, when more than 1,600 were killed.

The cull formally began in 2000 when the state of Montana and the federal government reached an agreement to annually decrease the herd to prevent the spread of brucellosis, though annual culls date back even further. Brucellosis, a European livestock disease originally introduced by cows, was first detected in Yellowstone buffalo in 1917.

“Through the legal agreement the National Park Service has to do this,” Yellowstone spokesperson Sandy Snell-Dobert said. “If there was more tolerance north of the park in Montana for wildlife, particularly bison as well as other wildlife, to travel outside the park boundaries, it wouldn’t be an issue.”

As of this summer, there were 4,900 bison in the park, and officials are hoping to bring that number closer to 3,000.

Montana ranchers say the cull is necessary because bison who roam outside of the park infect their cows with brucellosis, which causes miscarriages. They also say that relocation is not an option because the bison will compete for grazing land with their herds. Wildlife conservationists, on the other hand, argue that the bison attract millions of visitors to the park every year and that their numbers are dangerously low, so they should not be killed.

"Ecologically extinct throughout their native range, and not yet federally protected, bison are endangered," the Buffalo Field Campaign said. The organization keeps a running tally of the number of Yellowstone bison killed since 1985. To date, that number is 8,567. Buffalo Field Campaign contended that "there has never been a single documented case of wild buffalo transmitting brucellosis to livestock."

The organization pointed out that "Yellowstone elk and other wildlife, also known to carry brucellosis, are allowed to freely exit the park without coming under fire as the buffalo do." They blame Montana's powerful livestock industry for the unnecessary slaughter.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes that there's a better way forward. "It's time to stop shipping bison to slaughter and give them access to year-round habitat in Montana," said Matt Skoglund, Director of NRDC's Northern Rockies Office. "This proposal reinforces the need for the Governor to make a final decision and put into place the plan to expand wild bison habitat in Montana. This would be a huge step in the right direction, as it would allow bison to access important habitat outside the Park and improve the ability for bison to be managed like other wildlife in Montana."

"Yellowstone's iconic wild bison are central to the long-term conservation of the species, as they are a large population and the only continuously wild and free-roaming population in the U.S.," he added.

The total number killed may largely depend on winter weather. If the snowfall is heavy, bison will be forced to migrate to lower elevations in search of food. And if they wander outside the park, they are more likely to face slaughter.

“You can’t predict how many bison will go into the trap,” Montana State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski said. “Nature has a way of defying your best expectations."

Most of the 700 bison that were captured as part of last year's cull were turned over to Native American tribes in the area for slaughter. "Hunters, including from tribes with treaty rights in the Yellowstone area, are anticipated to kill more than 300 of the animals," Associated Press reported. "Others would be captured for slaughter or research purposes."

But not all tribes support the cull. Jimmy St. Goddard, a spiritual leader of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana, told Reuters, "the culling, for him, evokes a painful chapter of American history in which U.S. extermination campaigns pushed the massive, hump-backed creatures to the edge of extinction ... Killing these buffalo is shameful."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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