After weeks of repeated and futile hazings, the Montana Department of Livestock is preparing to slaughter about 300 bison near West Yellowstone, including scores of calves that are only a few weeks old.

Construction of a capture facility has already begun, acting State Veterinarian Jeanne Rankin told the Montana Board of Livestock on Tuesday. She recommended that all of the bison outside Yellowstone National Park's western boundary be trapped and sent to slaughter.

The joint state-federal bison management plan calls for all bison in that area to be back inside the park by May 15, well in advance of summer cattle grazing.

The livestock department, along with other state and federal agencies, has repeatedly hazed the bison back into the park with horses, vehicles and a helicopter, but the animals keep coming back out.

"If you keep doing something six times and expect six different results, it isn't going to happen," Rankin told the board, which endorsed her recommendation.

* The bison herd outside the park contains about 80 calves between 1 and 6 weeks old. They can't survive without their mothers at that age, and slaughterhouses aren't interested in handling them, Rankin said.

That means the animals will be killed and disposed of.

Trucking the animals deep into the park is feasible, said Rob Tierney, who runs the state bison operations. And Rankin said doing so would "take care of the possible media problem of slaughtering calves."

However, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis said that couldn't be done legally without a lengthy environmental review. And if they were hauled just a short distance, they'd probably walk right back out, she said.

Tierney said it will probably take two to three weeks to "clean up" the problem.

During most winters, the state rounds up bison, tests them for brucellosis and ships those testing positive to slaughter. It has never conducted such an operation with newborn calves.

This year, the agency used a new authority for "adaptive management," with less-intensive hazing earlier in the spring, then escalated efforts later.

"It was like trying to push your finger in a dike," Tierney said of the more recent hazings. "It did not work."

A bison advocacy group called on the state's beef industry to yield some ground.

"It's ridiculous," said Stephanie Seay of the Buffalo Field Campaign. "It's time for the cattle industry to take some responsibility. (Bison) are ecologically extinct everywhere. This is not good. This is not the right thing to do."

There are no cattle in the area at this time, according to Seay's group.

But Rankin said landowners are planning to put cattle on summer grass in about two weeks, and there is extra attention on bison this year because of the recent outbreak of brucellosis on a ranch near Bridger, south of Laurel.

Some of those infected cows had come from a Paradise Valley ranch owned by state Rep. Bruce Malcolm, R-Emigrant. His herd has tested clean of the disease, but must be retested two more times, Rankin said.

Other herds in the Bridger and Emigrant areas also are being tested, but no further signs of the disease have been found in Montana cattle.

The Buffalo Field Campaign pointed out that neither the Bridger nor Emigrant cattle herds ever mingled with bison.

However, Rankin and the board maintained eliminating bison that won't return to the park is important in helping the state retain its brucellosis-free status.

Board chairman William Hedstrom urged people to look at the bison "not as an icon, or as baby calves, but we have to look at it as a disease. If we're going to manage the disease in that area this seems to be our option."

Other board members pointed out that the Bridger cattle herd, including calves, will be killed, too.

Rankin said that herd, which belongs to Malcolm's daughter and son-in-law, contains a mixture of purebred and mixed-breed animals, along with some Corriente cattle, a Mexican breed popular for sport roping. Those animals appeared to be of American origin, she said.

All U.S. states except Idaho and Texas are certified as brucellosis free. Mexico is not brucellosis free.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer said it might be impossible to define the disease's origin precisely. He also criticized the federal government for not dealing with the disease inside the park, then forcing Montana to deal with it outside the park.

"We've destroyed over 1,000 head of bison and we'll probably be destroying some more," he said.