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Roundup of Nearly 300 Yellowstone National Park Bison, With Some Destined For Slaughter, Draws Condemnation


What will it take to allow Yellowstone National Park bison to be allowed to migrate into Montana in winter? NPT file photo.

Hopes for tolerance of migratory Yellowstone National Park bison by Montana officials seemed to unravel this week, as the park's tortuous winter drove hundreds of bison north into Montana. While they were quickly rounded up, some appear headed to slaughter.

“We live here, we see the bison every day. The bison are a positive influence in our lives,” Julia Page of the Bear Creek Council in Gardiner, Montana, said Tuesday. “These Yellowstone bison are the last remnant of the millions that used to roam the plains. Bison are culturally important to Montanans, and it saddens us to see bison slaughtered.”

The huge bison migration came during the weekend as a cold front barreled south out of Canada and draped sub-zero temperatures across the park. The bison had moved nearly 10 miles and onto private and public land north of Corwin Springs before hazers pushed them back into the park and its Stephens Creek bison capture facility.

The Interagency Bison Management Plan developed in 2000 by state and federal agencies allowed for the hazing, and corraling, of the bison. Nevertheless, the ensuing plan by the partner agencies to test the captured bison for exposure to brucellosis and ship any that tested positive to slaughter drew condemnation Tuesday from conservationists.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition officials joined Yellowstone-area residents to criticize the herding. They called on Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners to offer leniency for the bison, a lasting symbol of the old West.

According to a GYC release, "(T)he 300 bison were rounded up even as the only two cattle ranchers in the area told a local newspaper that they didn’t mind bison roaming outside the park. The number of bison in the Stephens Creek holding pen near Gardiner, Mont., represents about 7 percent of the entire Yellowstone population."

Migrating bison, genetically programmed to head to lower ground in winter, long have been viewed as a problem at Yellowstone. Montana livestock officials, worried their state might lose its "brucellosis-free status" and thus require expensive testing of their cattle herds to ensure they don't carry the disease that can cause spontaneous abortions in livestock, have long been opposed to letting Yellowstone bison wander out of the park and into their state.

Nearly three years ago conservationists embarked on a $1.5 million deal with the state that they hoped would build some tolerance in the state for Yellowstone's migrating bison. That deal involved the purchase of grazing rights on the Royal Teton Ranch just north of Yellowstone so that a relative handful of bison could migrate north onto Gallatin National Forest lands without running a gauntlet of hunters and hazers.

While the first movement of bison, 25 individuals, were allowed to head north towards the national forest last month, wildlife managers and livestock agents had trouble keeping the bison on the forest lands and away from private lands. One bison was shot and killed last week when efforts to haze it back onto the national forest failed.

According to a GYC release Tuesday, during a December meeting of IBMP partners, "three of the five agency partners proposed significant modifications to the zone boundaries that dictate bison management. Recommendations by the National Park Service, Gallatin National Forest, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks all proposed increasing the tolerance for bison around Gardiner, moving the Zone 2 boundary to allow for more habitat on public lands. Montana Department of Livestock disagreed with the proposals and prevented their implementation."

Now, with the expectation that some of the 300 corralled bison will be shipped to slaughter, the IBMP plan is being called a failure by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

“We need to change the plan to increase tolerance for bison around Gardiner, in just the way that the majority of the IBMP partners proposed last December,” said Mark Pearson, the group's conservation director.

Greater Yellowstone officials went on to note that, while more than 3,600 "genetically pure Yellowstone bison" have been "unnecessarily killed" in past winters for migrating out of the park in search of suitable winter habitat, that number likely will grow this winter without tolerance by Montana officials.

“Yellowstone’s bison need a new paradigm of management,” Mr. Pearson said. “The state of Montana can lead the way out of this quagmire by accommodating expanded zone management boundaries, and by devising long-term management solutions to let bison roam freely across the Gardiner Basin while still keeping them south of Yankee Jim Canyon. We are hopeful that Gov. Schweitzer and his staff can offer solutions that protect bison without detriment to the other interests in Montana.”


Sorry, to burst your bubble, but the Superintendent of Yellowstone NP doesn't have much say in this issue. Well, he has less influence than one would think. The true problem lies with the cattle ranchers and the state of Montana. More effective would be e-mails to the Governor of Montana, Montana State or Federal legislators, the Secretary of the Interior, or the director of the National Park Service in that order. Maybe contact the director of the USDA Forest Service as well since National Forest land is used by the cattle industry for grazing.

As posted earlier (by another poster):
Governor Brian D. Schweitzer
Office of the Governor
Montana State Capitol Bldg.
P.O. Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801
(406) 444-3111, FAX (406) 444-5529

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk
P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus

Bison like elk like and need to roam. Bison and Elk also carry bercelosis yet, there are few in Montana who want to kill the Elk who leave the National Park. People view the Elk as a game animal so there is a market and economy centered around the hunting and killing of these animals. The bison are viewed as something that was exterminated in the last century to make way for the emerging American markets which benifited the cattlemen. I for one want my public lands managed in part for wildlife which includes the presence of bison. Perhaps an ad campain should be started asking the simple question why are the cattlemen even involved with this discussion of bison being allowed to range on public lands? If bison are not allowed to graze on public lands why are cows? Cattle graze on public lands at a fraction of the cost of what someone would pay if they rented someones pasture. So are the cattlemen of Montana a bunch or welfare queens? If grazing is to be allowed on public land let the cattle on those lands adapt like everything else. If the bison develope antibodies to bercelosis why can't the cattle. If cattlemen can't stand the idea of them losing those hard earned profits at the publics expense maybe they should give up the grazing welfare system they currently support and take their cows back to their own pastures where they can fense and watch the animals.

Dan Wenk is indeed the new superintendent and is expected to be on the ground in a number of weeks. Mr. Campbell has been "acting" superintendent.

Spirit Coyote and Sam~ Solid, well thought out responses containing good information. Thank you! I did read that Yellowstone has a new Superintendent that started in October, Dan Wenk. Is this correct or is it Colin Campbell?

All good points. However, while I think an estimate of Yellowstone's carrying capacity is relevant and useful, it doesn't change the fact (IMO) that the herd needs to be allowed to grow AND expand its range onto the surrounding National Forest land.

Letter writing to influence policy is good. I've done my fair share of it, and I will continue to. I also think its the lease effective form of political organizing. Begging people to do the right thing does nothing to change the power dynamics that allow industry to dictate all of our resource and economic agendas. Unfortunately, the alternative to letter writing involves the difficult on the ground political organizing that leaves political and industry officials little choice but to follow the people's lead. I have experience with tougher organizing in the labor movement, and I know that it really isn't easy.

Having just disparaged letter writing...I would like to encourage people to write a letter to Colin Campbell, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. His e-mail is Time is short for these bison. Keep up the pressure.

With an environmental background and some experience on a 15,000 acre bison ranch in Montana, I stress that we do get involved in this issue, but with wisdom. This is not what most people are wanting to hear, but I believe every American MUST find it in their hearts to promote/support the existence of forward thinking individual ranchers of all types. It takes great humility, resourcefulness, and love of country to run any agriculture business on teens of thousands of wild wind swept acres - the same acres that DO support vast and rare diversities of wildlife and habitat. I'm am sure that if 99% of computer savvy bison loving folks, probably myself included, were to be in charge of stewarding these lands and wildlife, we'd be worse off.

But NO, this doesn't condone the slaughtering of some of our last largest purebred herd of bison. Have we not offended the native ancestors of this country and the heritage of our largest herbivore, enough already? We need these pure bred bison alive! The bison population has increased from under 1,000 in the late 1800's to about 500,000 in North America today, but most of these animals have mixed cattle genes and are for meat produce, never again to roam in areas as large as Yellowstone. SO, some outstanding questions I have which could expand our narrow scope of this issue and assist in better policy are:

- Why is Department of Livestock still managing the tax payers "wild bison"? Why is Department of Livestock not hazing, slaughtering elk as they are bison? - I assume for a good reason, but then why don’t these reasons apply to bison as well?
- What's Yellowstone's estimated carrying capacity for bison?
- Who is best to write to for better policies so we don't repeat the last 20 years!!! Montana Representative? DOL? Montana Cattleman Ass.?
- Are these migrations outside the park happening because Yellowstone is over populated and over grazed?
- What position if at all does the National Bison Association have on this issue?

If Yellowstone it is over populated, than it's currently unsustainable to care for such a large migrating species. The costs of downed fences and brucellosis are too much for many ranchers to think about - whether it happens or not. Here are Ideas as to how we can acquire/steward adequate protected grazing passages for this species.

- If over populated, run a well monitored hunting season outside the park to control the population (travels spend top dollar for a hunting trip to Montana).
- If over populated, ship bison to additional parks needing herd growth
- Auction off animals (as done in Custer State Park) to keep pure bison genetics and integrity on ranches.
- Buy beef from neighboring Yellowstone cattle ranches if they'll allow bison to graze in empty pastures and if they do NOT allow the DOL to haze and slaughter the bison on their property. (never under estimate the power of educated consumer choices!)
- Support those on the front-line of this issue to get consulting help since 20 years is not enough time for them to realize little to no progress has been made.

I look forward to others input/advice

Here's a little information to help make a more informed Informed Montanan.

There used to be 30 to 100 million wild, genetically pure bison. Now we have 3,000. Killing of the bison has been one of many massive subsidies to the cattle industry (on top of subsidized grazing leases, lax/no enforcement of lease agreements, subsidized research through university extension programs, price supports, access road constructions, etc.). Killing the very last wild bison is just too high a price. This herd is represents the seeds for the massive herds that will roam the plains once again.

You can write to Colin Campbell, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. His e-mail is He's being swamped, or so he claims. Keep the pressure on.

Tell him this (if you don't mind):

END THE CATTLE INDUSTRY BAILOUT. Cattle industry mismanagement of their herds allowed brucellosis to jump to the buffalo. Industry should pay the cost. It is not our responsibility to compensate them by slaughtering the last wild buffalo and destroying any future hopes for a functioning Great Plains ecosystem.

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