We have a deep appreciation of bison, those symbols of the American West that have played such a prominent part in the history and culture of South Dakota.
It's with great pride that we note South Dakota's leading role in the preservation of bison, which nearly went extinct. South Dakotans including Scotty Philip are credited with building the herds during the late 1800s and early 1900s that brought bison back from the brink, and in modern times South Dakota consistently ranks atop the list of bison-producing states. According to the most recent numbers, South Dakota has nearly 35,000 bison -- more than any other state and about 20 percent of all the bison in the United States.
So, like anybody who is thrilled by the majestic site of a buffalo in a beautiful setting like Custer State Park, we're excited to hear that the federal government is taking steps to build the bison population by transferring animals from Yellowstone National Park to areas in the Dakotas.
We must urge state and federal officials to act with caution, though.
Some of the Yellowstone herd is infected with brucellosis, a disease that can spread to cattle and cause abortions and sterility.
South Dakota may rank No. 1 in bison and may be a welcoming place for the animals, but there's no denying that cattle are the modern king of our state's grasslands. Whereas fewer than 1 percent of South Dakota farms and ranches have bison, 50 percent have cattle, and there are nearly 4 million cattle and calves in the state. The beef industry alone is estimated to have an impact of almost $3 billion on South Dakota's economy.
It's understandable, then, when cattle producers get a little nervous around bison.
There's plenty of room in South Dakota, and there are plenty of places for bison to roam where they'll pose minimal threats to cattle.
With careful execution, hopefully the plan to bring more bison to South Dakota can happen without also bringing an outbreak of brucellosis.