Sunday, May 23, 2010

Privatizing bison

Both state and federal governments have done a lot of privatizing in recent years, but who knew it would extend to wildlife? Yet in a sense, it is has. A front-page story in yesterday's New York Times discusses the controversy around the State of Montana's decision to permit bison who migrate naturally from Yellowstone National Park onto neighboring land owned by Ted Turner. Here's the lede of Kirk Johnson's story:
When dozens of wild American bison wandered out of Yellowstone National Park in search of greener grass and wound up five years later sheltered on a giant ranch owned by Ted Turner, media mogul and bison meat kingpin, the species reached what many believe could be a turning point.

Mr. Turner, under an unusual custodial contract with the state of Montana, offered to shepherd the animals for the next five years as part of an experimental program. It will grant him a sizable portion of their offspring in exchange, much to the chagrin of environmentalists who sued the state, saying the bison belong to the public.

State wildlife managers hope that the bison on Turner's ranch, a genetic variety known as Yellowstone 87, will prove brucellosis-free after five years so that they can provide the basis for establishing additional free-roaming populations elsewhere in the West. This variety currently not only roam free in Yellowstone, they are also raised for meat on private ranches. Indeed, one reason environmentalists are up in arms over the state's decision to work with Turner is that he can, under the terms of the agreement, breed the bison commercially and supply their meat to his chain of restaurants, Ted's Montana Grill. Indeed, the story reports that Turner is the nation's biggest purveyor of bison meat. In their suit, the coalition of environmentalists argue that the bison are a public good, like water or air, and that the state's action violates the duty to manage them for the public good.

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