Caught in a battle between ranchers, campaigners and park officials, hundreds of bison are culled each year. Photographer Michelle McCarron bears witness
One freezing dawn last March, I stood in Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek facility with a small group of journalists and conservationists. We watched as park rangers and biologists went to work on one of the nation’s most iconic and impressive animals. It was an uncomfortable scene to watch. One by one, dozens of American bison were forced into squeeze chutes. They roared in pain and fear as their enormous bodies were trapped by a brutish metal clamp called the Silencer. Many bled and their horns were ripped off as they tried to escape.
Methodically, the biologists drew blood samples and weighed the immobilised giants, then sorted them into pens: on one side, animals that would be kept in quarantine for an undetermined period; on the other, those that would be loaded on a trailer. These were the less fortunate ones – their final destination a slaughterhouse in Montana.
The Stephens Creek facility, just inside the park’s northern border, near Gardiner, Montana, is infamous among wildlife advocates. Every year since 2000, park authorities have culled hundreds of bison (also known as buffalo) at the behest of the state of Montana. For years, conservation groups and members of the public have been demanding the right to witness the event. Finally, a small group of us was allowed in last year. Fencing and wood boards partially obscured our view. This year’s cull will be larger. It’s aim: to drastically reduce the size of this last herd of wild bison.
Each year, hundreds of wild bison are prodded through the wood and metal maze of Stephens Creek facility in Yellowstone National Park