Wildlife Management:

Negotiations on a Long-Term Plan for Managing Yellowstone Bison Still Ongoing

RCED-00-7: Published: Nov 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the governmental and nongovernmental plans for managing the Yellowstone National Park bison herd, focusing on the: (1) key elements of the five nongovernmental plans and the government's preferred alternative; (2) strengths and weaknesses of the economic analyses used to support each of these six plans; and (3) status of efforts to issue the environmental impact statement (EIS) on the government's plan.

GAO noted that:(1) the proposed plans for managing the Yellowstone bison all have same the basic purpose, which is to maintain a wild, free-ranging population while protecting Montana's cattle from brucellosis infection; (2) however, the specific objectives and management actions identified to achieve that purpose differ significantly among the plans; (3) of the six different bison management plans GAO reviewed, only the interagency team's draft EIS included an analysis of the net benefits associated with its seven bison management alternatives; (4) consequently, GAO was unable to compare the potential economic effects of the plans; (5) moreover, the scope of the interagency team's analysis of the benefits and costs is limited, and some of the data used in the analysis is subject to considerable uncertainty; (6) because of time constraints, the interagency team's contractor used data on other wildlife species to approximate the bison-related benefits; (7) the interagency team stated that it plans to improve the precision of the benefit estimates in the final EIS by using bison-specific data that is being collected; (8) approximately 70 percent of the public comments received by the interagency team opposed the preferred alternative presented in the draft EIS; (9) on the basis of the public comments and the findings of additional research completed after the draft statement's issuance, the interagency team is considering modifying the preferred alternative for the final EIS; (10) on November 5, 1999, the federal lead agencies sent the latest proposal for modifying the preferred alternative to Montana for its review; and (11) according to Department of the Interior staff, the proposal would rely on the vaccination of both bison and cattle, as well as their separation, to minimize the risk of brucellosis transmission.

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