WASHINGTON, D.C.: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has embarked on a mission to end the slaughter of buffalo outside of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. "There's no logical reason to pick on the bison to shoot and slaughter," Babbitt told reporters. To combat brucellosis, a disease found in bison that causes abortions, infertility and reduced milk production when transmitted to cattle, Montana officials are permitted to shoot any buffalo that wander outside of the park. Babbit advocates a different approach in the fight against brucellosis: more research, less guns. Specifically, the Interior Secretary has asked the National Academy of Sciences to file a report on the extent of brucellosis infection, the chances for developing a vaccine program and the nature of disease transmission between buffalo and cattle. "The continued pointless killings by the state of Montana are threatening the future of this magnificent symbol of our nation's commitment to conservation," he said. Nonsense, countered Montana Governor Marc Racicot, who last week termed Babbit's utterances on buffalo "rhetorical posturing." Montana is already plagued by a booming Yellowstone bison herd that should be reduced to no more than 2,000 heads, he said. But Interior Department statistics suggest that target has already been met. The herd, which numbered 3,500 last October, is now down to around 1,500 heads thanks to a combination of shootings and severe winter weather. Even if Montana officials succeed in eliminating all buffalo that wander into neighboring federal forest ranges in search of food, they still will have to contend with other potential brucellosis carriers, such as elk, Babbit said. Meanwhile, guns are held at the ready.