EarthTalk: What's the controversy over bison
hunting in the U.S. and Canada?
-- Prakash Thomas, Akron, Ohio
Whether or not
to allow the hunting of bison (also known as buffalo) is a
hot debate indeed. For starters, Native Americans sustainably
hunted bison for thousands of years, but the onslaught of
gun-toting European commercial hunters reduced the species
to just 30 remaining animals by the 1880s. Bison populations
have rebounded in recent years, but to numbers in just the
low thousands, far from the 30 to 60 million that roamed the
plains before the white man arrived in the New World. Animal
advocates and environmentalists think hunters should not be
allowed another shot at bison right now.
Meanwhile, agricultural agencies in both the U.S. and Canada
beg to differ, as they have been dutifully working for decades
to stamp out a disease, Brucellosis, which once ran rampant
through domestic cattle herds. The disease, which can spread
easily between cattle as well as bison, causes infertility,
miscarriages and lowered milk production in the animals. It
is also transmissible to humans, where it is known as "undulant
fever" because of the severe intermittent fevers it causes.
Livestock ranchers have cooperated with government efforts
to rid their cattle populations of Brucellosis, but the disease
spread into rebounding bison herds in Yellowstone National
Park and in Canada?s Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta
in the middle of the 20th century when cattle were allowed
to graze in the same areas. Domestic livestock grazing is
no longer allowed inside either park, but wild bison tend
to wander outside park boundaries where they can intermingle
with domestic cattle herds and possibly reintroduce Brucellosis.
As such, ranchers think that hunting any such bison that stray
too far from protected areas is justified in order to protect
against a new outbreak among domestic cattle.
For this reason, the state of Montana began to allow bison
hunting during the 1980s. Animal advocates decried hunting
the innocently grazing animals as hardly sporting, and nationally
televised protests and tourist boycotts forced the Montana
legislature to shut the hunt down in 1991. But in 2005, Montana
lifted the ban, but with some strings attached: The hunt was
limited to a 450,000-acre area; and only 50 permit holders
actually got to take down a bison. (More than six thousand
applicants vied for the coveted permits, which were awarded
via lottery.) And hunters must get certified in their knowledge
of the rules of the hunt.
Nevertheless, animal advocates were not placated. Video cameras
in hand, members of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy
group, were on hand last fall to film the killing of the first
bison, which reportedly took five bullets and about 45 minutes
to die after a 17-year-old marksman shot it.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government is considering letting
hunters into Alberta's Wood Buffalo National Park to cull
the burgeoning herd there, where Brucellosis has become a
big problem. Last fall, 32 scientists met to figure out whether
it was possible to eliminate the disease from the park by
culling the herd and then reintroducing the species. The jury
is still out. Meanwhile, the fate of the bison hangs in the
CONTACT: Buffalo Field Campaign, www.buffalofieldcampaign.org.
Where I live in Connecticut, our highways are
"parking lots" many times a day. Isn't this an ideal
situation for public transit? Why isn't it happening?
-- John Moulton, Stamford, CT
An increasing number
of public transit options are coming online throughout North
America, but those of you idling alone bumper-to-bumper in
your cars might not know it. Indeed, lack of knowledge about
public transportation options may be the largest impediment
to widespread acceptance of more efficient ways of getting
around. Driving your own car back and forth to work every
day is not as convenient as it once was, and public transit
options are now faster and undoubtedly generate less stress
In Connecticut, the state-owned CTTRANSIT moves 27 million
people a year on well-appointed local and express buses serving
all metro areas. And two full-service commuter rail lines,
Metro-North and Shore Line East, routinely take riders longer
distances. Similar services are available in many urban and
suburban areas across the U.S. Municipal websites are the
best place to find transit options, routes and schedules.
The best thing to happen to encourage public transit usage
has been high gas prices. Over the last year the average price
of regular unleaded rose in the U.S. by 76 cents, with prices
now $3.00 or more almost everywhere. And transit agencies
report a correlation between high gas prices and increased
ridership. The Utah Transit Authority says ridership is up
50 percent from last year on a 19-mile light-rail system in
Salt Lake City. And Washington, DC?s Metrorail has seen some
of its busiest days ever during the last few months. In Canada,
ridership has risen as much as 10 percent in cities like Vancouver
and Winnipeg in step with rising gas prices, though cars remain
the travel option of choice in the country's eastern cities.
According to the American Public Transportation Association,
14 million Americans use one or another form of public transportation
every weekday, while about 17 million people drive their cars
instead. The organization estimates that public transit ridership
has grown by as much as 22 percent--faster than highway or
air travel--since 1995. And a recently conducted Harris Poll
concluded that the American public would like to see rail-based
public transit "have an increasing share of passenger
Meanwhile, Canadians have embraced public transit even more
than their neighbors to the south. An estimated 12 million
Canadians--more than a fifth of all commuters--use some form
of public transit. Transportation analyst Paul Schimek found
that public transit use is almost twice as high per capita
in Canada as in the U.S. Also, car use in Canada is almost
20 percent lower per capita. Schimek attributes the differences
to traditionally higher gas prices as well as more compact
urban development than in the U.S.
Analysts point to the strength of the American "highway
lobby" as the reason why Americans have been slow to
embrace public transit. It has worked directly with lawmakers
over the years to encourage road building and private automobile
use to achieve, in the words of a General Motors ad of days
gone by, the "American dream of freedom on wheels."
Back in Connecticut, some urban planners have been pushing
the idea of turning crowded Interstate 95 into a double-decker
highway in places to ease congestion.
CONTACTS: American Public Transportation
; Canadian Urban Transit Association, www.cutaactu.ca.