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2 groups aim to raise public interest in bison

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The InterTibal Bison Cooperative and the National Wildlife Federation are launching an advertising campaign in hopes of increasing public interest in the problem of Yellowstone National Park's wandering bison.

The campaign will involve newspapers, billboards and advertising space in airports. Ads will feature a photograph of a man standing on a 30-foot-high mountain of bison skulls from animals killed in the past century."Why repeat the mistakes of the past?" the ads ask.

The ads ask people to call a toll-free number that will record the caller's name and address. Information will then be mailed.

The billboards feature pictures of a Montana game warden and a Department of Livestock official preparing to kill a pair of bison standing beside a sign that says "wildlife viewing area."

The messages are graphic, but the groups say they are proposing a rational approach to the bison controversy, one that gives everybody something but that doesn't give anybody everything they want.

"We want to appeal to common sense, middle America," said Stephen Torbit, a senior scientist for the wildlife federation.

The two groups have proposed a multipoint bison management plan.

It calls for setting up a brucellosis quarantine facility on an Indian reservation, with disease-free animals going to Indian herds; setting limits on the number of bison in the park; allowing bison to wander, within limits, on public land outside the park; acquiring additional winter range outside the park; adjusting the times and places where cattle can graze on public land; establishing a "fair chase" hunting season outside the park; vaccinating cattle for brucellosis; changing the use of park roads in the winter; and developing a brucellosis vaccine for bison.

The proposals are close to those in a long-term proposal put forth by state and federal agencies last year, but implementation could take several years. A plan proposed for just one year is now in its second year.

The buffalo wander off park lands into Montana in search of food when winter covers or exhausts the park's forage.

Montana insists on killing most bison that enter Montana to prevent any possibility that they could infect cattle with brucellosis, a disease that causes cattle to abort and causes undulant fever in humans. State officials say if they don't act, other states could put sanctions on Montana beef.

Nearly 1,100 bison were killed or captured for slaughter in the 1996-97 winter, but deaths have dropped drastically during this year's mild winter.