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Controversial Buffalo Hunt Starts in Wyoming

Date: 17-Sep-07
Country: US
Author: Laura Zuckerman

US Fish and Wildlife Service officials say buffalo at the
refuge, home to one of the nation's largest free-roaming herds
of the symbol of the American West, must be killed because of
overgrazing and because they carry diseases that could be
transmitted to domestic livestock.

The hunt aims to cull 300 buffalo -- also called bison --
by December.

The move has raised concern in the upscale community of
Jackson, where the lure of the jagged peaks of the Teton Range
and wildlife-watching draw tens of thousands of tourists each
year. It also has alarmed animal groups, which say shooting
creatures accustomed to humans is far from sporting.

"Hunting these bison is like hunting parked cars," said
Jonathan Lovvorn, a vice president of the US Humane Society
and attorney with the Fund for Animals.

Buffalo were hunted nearly to extinction in the United
States' westward expansion, by the late 1880s leaving only a
few hundred of the huge animals that had numbered more than 60
million and sustained the Great Plains Indians.

The Fund for Animals was behind a 1998 lawsuit that
suspended a plan to thin the herd significantly through
hunting, a moratorium lifted last month by a federal judge.
While the refuge approved limited hunting of bison in the years
before the lawsuit, no hunt in its history has approximated the
magnitude of the season that starts on Saturday.

COMPETITION FOR FORAGE

The refuge, which sprawls across 25,000 acres of
grasslands, aspen groves and lodgepole pine stands, was
established in 1912 at the urging of Jackson Hole residents
concerned about the wildlife pushed from their winter range by
the resort town's settlement.

For decades, wildlife managers have sought to lessen the
competition in the winter for forage among wild animals and
cattle by feeding elk at the refuge, a practice that began
attracting buffalo in 1980 and helped their population soar.

The bison hunt on the refuge comes as species in the
American West are vying for food sources made scarce by months
of fire, years of drought and by the rapid development of lands
that once harbored wildlife.

Like the visitors who throng to Jackson Hole each year,
Wyoming wildlife officials say they value the bison. "We love
them too - but in limited numbers," said Wyoming Game and
Fish's Barb Long.

Eric Cole, biologist with the National Elk Refuge, said
wildlife managers are not oblivious to the plight of the bison
and to the uproar that follows many wildlife management
decisions.

"It's really impossible to keep all segments of the public
happy with such controversial issues at hand," he said. "We're
having more conflicts about land uses - between habitat and
development - and the pressure on the ecosystem is all coming
to a head because of different visions of the West."

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