Despite being bombarded by criticism and even death threats over the weekend, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple on Monday stood by his decision to put down 15 runaway bison Friday that had broken loose from a Rensselaer County farm and crossed the Hudson River and two major roadways.
However, the sheriff said in hindsight he should have done one thing differently: Have his own personnel shoot the animals, rather than rely on the shooters employed by GEM Farms in Castleton to do the killings. Apple was highly critical of the way the bison (often colloquially if incorrectly referred to as buffalo) were put down.
On Friday he called the shootings a scene out of the “Wild Wild West” and at one point tried to call it off before finding out it was over.
“Probably the better path down the road is to have our Emergency Response Team [ERT] come and take them out,” he said. “In hindsight it would have been a public relations nightmare, but I’d probably have my people do it. … They’re trained professionals.”
Apple said he should have used his own people because he could not vouch for the training of those sent by the farm to take out the bison.
Apple’s problem was not with the shooting of the bison, but how it was carried out by the five hunters hired by the farm. He said Friday and reiterated Monday they fired into a Coeymans ravine just outside of Bethlehem in a haphazard manner, wounding some animals without immediately killing them.
“The unfortunate part is I don’t think they did it in a humane manner,” said Apple, who even arrested one of the shooters who refused orders to immediately finish off one of the wounded bison, instead moving on to another target. Apple, who was visibly angry Friday, decided not to press charges against the unidentified man.
“It broke my heart to see those animals suffer,” he said.
Animal experts and the farm were in agreement that the bison had to be put down in the field. There is no way to transport the 1,000-pound-plus animals, who can tear through fencing and even walls, and they cannot be safely tranquilized. After the herd crossed the New York State Thruway and Route 9W, it was clear they were public safety threat, officials said.
In fact, plans were in place to take out the herd before it crossed the highways, but the bison charged and got away into a more residential area of southern Bethlehem.
Still, the story that gained national attention and caused a social media frenzy sparked a deluge of anger, much of it directed at the sheriff.
“I got death threats over it and everything,” Apple said. “They’ve been calling, emailing. I’ve been called names I didn’t even know were invented yet.”
Apple said he plans to have select members of his ERT team trained in taking out large animals in the unlikely event a similar situation arises again.
Following Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012, Albany County created an Animal Response Team. Working in conjunction with sheriff’s offices in Schoharie and Greene counties, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and other groups, the team is charged with rounding up loose animals after a disaster, whether they be farm animals such as cattle or goats, or domesticated pets.
The team was on the scene Friday but was of little use. “There was nothing they could do,” Apple said. Bison, he said, “are not cattle.”
The herd broke loose Thursday from a Castleton farm, where they are raised for beef. The meat from the slain animals may not be resold. Six of the escaped bison were shot at Schodack Island State Park, while the remaining 15 apparently swam the Hudson River and trekked through Albany County.