John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 3-18-13 |

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John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 3-18-13

The government may be creating jobs in the realm of bison counting.

Management of the wild bison herds in Yellowstone National Park is under the guidance of the Interagency Bison Management Program (IBMP) which produces weekly reports on the Yellowstone herds. A primary management objective is to keep the bison inside the Park, so they don’t wander into Montana, potentially jeopardizing that state’s brucellosis-free status.

There have been recorded cases of brucellosis in bison, and when some herds migrated into Montana back in the mid-1980s, Montana Fish and Game issued bison hunting permits. This practice was shut down in 1989 due to public outcry at the “canned hunts” in which Fish and Wildlife personnel took licensees out to shoot standing bison with no more sport than shooting a sofa. It brought back images of the great bison slaughter on the High Plains.

Then there were the snowmobile-bison chases that many people found to be worse even than shooting a sofa. There was something about the wildness of the bison set against a high octane recreation machines that seemed to offend the sensibilities and pride of a lot of people.

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Some people claimed, with some justification, that the real objective of the hunts was to eliminate the wild bison, or get them to such a small population that they would never threaten Montana’s brucellosis free status. This situation eventually led to formation of the IBMP, which now keeps close tabs on the bison, and which may be hiring bison counters.

A recent IBMP report found a wild bison herd in Yellowstone of some 3,700 head, with 2,300 head in the North Range of the Park, and 1,400 in the central, interior areas. There are those who put the bison carrying capacity (BCC) of Yellowstone at only 3,000 head, though this number depends heavily on the ledger status given to key variables. Some wildlife biologists put the BCC closer to 5,000 head.

The IBMP also keeps track of the winter mortality rate, and birth rates, migration patterns, and several ecological systems factors. The IBPM creates documents of considerable length and detail in reference to bison management. They actually count and track the bison on a weekly basis. This is obviously a field in need of people who can count. For example, a G-2 Bison Numerologist, whose job entails the filing of a weekly report of bison populations and movements, was kidded about having a cushy job.

“All you have to do is ride around and count bison all day,” an observer pointed out. “Camp, backpack as you track the herds. Must be nice.”

“Well,” said the Bison Numerologist, “it actually requires more skill and attention than you might think. Counting bison is far from an exact science. I’ve tried all sorts of techniques, and finally have deduced, in collaboration with other Bison Numerologists, and a consult from the IBMP Bison Necrometricists, that the most effective way to count bison is to count the legs and divide by three.”

“Not divide by four?” asked the observer.

“No, because the IBMP states I have a statistical probability of being 25 percent off.” ❖

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