While Bison Are Driven Back into Yellowstone National Park, Questions Over Management Continue

Wranglers drove hundreds of bison back into Yellowstone National Park on Monday. NPS photos by Jim Peaco.

With winter's killing fields still fresh in the memory, several hundred bison that had been held in a National Park Service "capture facility" were driven back into Yellowstone National Park on Monday. While the bison gained the relative safety of the park's landscape, nagging questions over their long-term management persisted.

For instance, would a plan to gain bison access to national forest lands north of the park via the Royal Teton Ranch be finalized? Would it, in the long-run, be sufficient to handle the large numbers of bison that instinctively head down out of Yellowstone's high country in the fall to lower elevation wintering grounds north of the park?

Will Montana officials be able to work out, in essence, grazing rights for bison west of Yellowstone?

While these questions continue to swirl, wranglers on Monday drove about 300 bison -- bulls, cows, and calves -- from the Stephens Creek capture facility near Gardiner, Montana, down to Mammoth and then either east to the Lamar Valley or south toward Fountain Flats, the Central Plateau, and Hayden Valley.

The majority of the bison had been held in the Stephens Creek facility since early April, waiting for release at spring green-up so as to protect Montana’s brucellosis-free status without sending the bison to slaughter.

This past winter, one of the harshest in years, led to the largest loss of Yellowstone bison since the herds were brought back from the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. Since November more than 1,700 bison have been killed or removed from the Yellowstone herd. In addition, Yellowstone Park officials estimate that at least 700 bison have been lost to winter-kill.

Meanwhile, in a report released earlier this spring, the Government Accountability Office showed that despite eight years and $16 million spent since 2002, the Interagency Bison Management Plan put together by state and federal officials is failing to allow bison to range freely outside of Yellowstone. The report pointed to the IBMP agencies’ failure to utilize the adaptive management provision of the plan and encouraged the agencies to implement changes using this provision.

Comments

Please keep this issue in the news. As spring turns into summer, too many people are going to forget about this "crying shame" ! I hope some organization can keep the word out to visitors of the Yellowstone NP and nearby areas this summer. Intense pressure from the "tourists" will make a difference as it hits the almighty dollar factor !

This situation is a national disgrace and needs to be solved once and for all, while we still have some of these magnificant wild animals left.

Betty,

Buffalo Field Campaign has a table every summer at Tower Fall where they give out information; however, it's not enough. I know of a school group that will be going in trying to advertise what's happening. Nearer to the park in Montana, we've gotten our new group, Buffalo Allies of Bozeman at http://www.buffaloallies.org, going. Obama spoke in Bozeman yesterday, and I didn't have nearly enough flyers to give out - they went flying out of my hands.

We truly need to do more to inform visitors. Even locals seem woefully uninformed; many think this is a hunting issue (when in fact none of the groups I know about opposes bison hunting per se - what they oppose is bison hunting where there is no habitat for bison; they oppose a canned hunt on Yellowstone's border). So, there's a lot of work to do here close to Yellowstone let alone the rest of the country.

Some in my group - including myself - are going to Gardiner tonight for a Bear Creek Council meeting. This is a grassroots group that has generally been allied with those who have supported the bad deal made with the Church Universal and Triumphant north of the park and was a recent signatory to a letter about the bison haze west of the park - with the same groups, as well as Defenders of Wildlife. While we don't think we're going to change minds necessarily on the deal, I think it's more important to develop a working relationship with a group of people living right on the park boundary - who could be leading the effort to inform the traveling public on what's been happening with Yellowstone's buffalo. Anything I can do to support them - and grassroots organizing in general - I will, even though we have strong disagreements over the deal.

But, we'll need help keeping this in the news. It really takes the efforts of others making news about this to keep it there. If you are visiting the park and have a message for the traveling public, we can do our best to amplify that in the media. Buffalo Field Campaign cannot do it alone; they truly need others to be speaking out and informing others.

And, Kurt, thank you for keeping this issue on your site and providing a forum for both points of view on the recent deal. By the way, we've posted the details of the deal on our Web site - see http://buffaloallies.org/node/39; it's even worse than it sounds.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

According to Buffalo Field Campaign, the Montana Department of Livestock has just captured another 9 bulls, which they intend to slaughter. So, despite what we've been lead to believe, the slaughter isn't over.

See http://blog.buffalofieldcampaign.org/2008/05/21/urgent-action-9-bulls-in-trap-at-duck-creek/ for what to do.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Now an even fresher memory - I'm sad to report that the nine bulls were sent to slaughter this morning. That's confirmed by BFC, as well as a person who witnessed this in Horse Butte. That brings the total to 1,613 killed; the total buffalo left in Yellowstone is estimated to be close to 2,100 (well more than half now dead from the fall population); however, no one really knows. Recent counts, which officials emphasize are not meant to be population estimates, actually show a count of much lower. You will see plenty of buffalo along the rivers right now and in plain sight, but it's simply not what it was. The herds are under enormous stress, and this doesn't help.

Everyone knows that a bull bison cannot transmit brucellosis; everyone knows there are no cattle in the area these bulls were killed. This is not about brucellosis; this is about land use ideology. The NPS should get out of the IBMP immediately; the next president should pull all the federal agencies out. Yet, will they pay attention?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World