DEADWOOD, S.D. – Unwilling to risk lawsuits and potential negative publicity, officials in this historic gambling town voted 4-1 Tuesday against a proposal to allow bison to be run with people for a special event on Main Street.
Bulls have been run on the streets of Pamplona, Spain, during an annual festival since the late 16th century, but the mayor and Deadwood city commissioners were told that bison are far less predictable than cattle and much more dangerous to both participants and spectators.
Lynn Namminga of the Prairie Hills Audubon Society said the proposed local event would do more harm than good. He predicted that animal rights groups would bombard Deadwood for forcing buffalo to run within a 15-foot-wide barrier on a half-mile course through town.
"It is an incredibly cruel thing to do to a wild animal," Namminga said.
"It's dumb on so many levels that these promoters should be embarrassed to show their faces here," he said. "Treating animals cruelly to promote financial self interests is despicable and morally reprehensible."
Although promoters, who had hoped to use such an event to draw attention to the bison industry and sales of bison meat, said they would obtain $10 million in coverage from Lloyds of London, Deadwood officials worried that legal liability would still be a problem. The city's normal insurer informed them that it would provide no coverage on the days of the proposed event.
Officials fretted, too, about the city's image if something would go wrong or if animal rights groups protested the event that was planned for July 2007.
"We're going to get a lot of bad publicity out of this," warned Mayor Francis Toscana. "It can't be helped."
Toscana read a letter of opposition from a former mayor who threatened to circulate petitions and put the issue to a public vote if the permit was granted. While such an event could be run without problems, the potential for catastrophe exists if buffalo would break through special barriers designed to keep them corralled, Toscana said.
The proposal would have allowed dozens of people to run with the bison for short segments along Main Street on two successive days, he said.
Despite their massive size — mature bison bulls can weigh a ton — the shaggy animals are much faster than humans. Bison, often called buffalo, can run up to 35 mph.
John Boyer, an attorney for Golden Bison Co. of Omaha, Neb., said the firm had carefully planned the proposed bison run for more than a year. He said six or seven young bull bison would be run through a practice course several times to ensure that all would go well before the actual event.
A sturdy traffic barrier capable to stopping vehicles going 55 mph would be used to contain the bison, and a steel livestock fence would provide backup protection, he said.
Drovers on all-terrain vehicles would keep the bison moving along the course on Main Street, Boyer said.
Speaking in favor of the proposal, George Milos, director of the Deadwood Chamber and Visitors Bureau, estimated that the two-day event could bring $1.7 million in new revenues for local businesses if just 10,000 people showed up. It's likely that a much larger crowd would attend, he said.