Yellowstone Bison Herd Management

Bison walking through deep snow near Tower Junction in March. Photo by NPS Jim Peaco.

Bison walking through deep snow near Tower Junction in March. Photo by NPS Jim Peaco.

March, 2014: Yellowstone bison win a court case! The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that bison can temporarily roam outside the Yellowstone Park boundaries during winter without being killed. The bison often cross Park boundaries during harsh winters when the lower elevation in Montana offers grass for grazing. They return to the Park when the snow thaws.

This ruling upholds a February 2012 decision by lower state agency courts. In 2012, livestock producers and their allies countered the original decision by demanding aggressive hazing and slaughtering of bison that enter the Gardiner, Montana area in the winter. Their fears are that bison could infect domestic cattle. About half of Yellowstone’s 4,600 bison test positive for brucellosis, which causes pregnant animals to prematurely abort their young. Bison advocates speculate that this is not the real issue because elk with brucellosis present a much bigger threat to livestock than bison.

Now, this affirmation of the courts clearly states that slaughter of these roaming animals is illegal, even outside the Park

Source: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/montana-supreme-court-rules-against-park-county-on-bison-appeal/article_ed5e557f-645b-51c8-bb9e-7590b6c8d7ce.html

(Above video by Leo Leckie) March 14, 2014 — This herd of Yellowstone National Park Bison dashes from Mammoth Hot Springs eastward along the roadway and deeper into the park. If the herd matriarch gets the urge to run, she will … and the entire herd will run to keep up. Sometimes I can tell, I can feel that this running is a celebration of life — running for the sheer joy of being able to. (YouTube)


February, 2014: Harsh winters in the high country drive bison to more moderate-temperature low lands in Montana where they come in conflict with local ranchers. The ranchers are concerned about disease and competition with cattle for grass. To add to the complexity of the situation, local Native Americans claim that the plan infringes on treaty hunting rights. Historically, regional tribes hunt bison every winter. (See related story: Yellowstone Bison Hunt Takes Record Numbers)

This February, 20 wild bison from Yellowstone have been transferred to a Montana Native American tribe for harvesting. Another five were transferred to the U.S. Department of  Agriculture for use in a contraception program. This is in accordance with a multiyear plan to reduce the herd from about 4,600 to 3,000. Up to 600 bison could be killed this winter.

The last time a major reduction of herd was implemented was in 2008, when 1,600 were killed.


Janurary, 2013: Biologists in Yellowstone National Park recommend that 450 bison be killed this winter in order to “reduce abundance and growth potential,” reported Wyoming’s Star Tribune.

Estimates from 2012 report that Yellowstone has roughly 4,200 bison. These animals are divided into two herds: the central herd that stays primarily near Old Faithful and the Firehole and Madison river drainages, and the northern herd that gathers near the Lamar Valley and Yellowstone River drainage. Currently, the central herd has about 1,600 animals, while the northern herd has 2,600 animals, the most it’s ever had, according to park officials.

Ideally, the park service would like to see each herd have roughly 1,500 bison, with an equal number of males and females.

“Hunting and management removals of approximately 400 bison per year would provide a high certainty of approaching all desired conditions within five years,” reads the Interagency Bison Management Plan statement.

Without thinning the herds this winter, biologists say that there’s a 50 percent chance of bison numbers rising to more than 4,875 entering into the 2014 winter.

Those against the culling strategy argue that bison should be allowed in a larger area, rather than slaughtering the animals. Dan Brister, executive director of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a conservation group, supports enlarging the bisons’ habitat.

“We’d like to see them treat bison more like elk are treated,” he told the Tribune. “There’s a lot of great habitat they’re being excluded from.”


December 22, 2011: Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is arguing with the U.S. Federal government over what to do with the upcoming winter’s overflow of hungry–and potentially brucellosis* exposed–Yellowstone National Park bison. TheAssociated Press reported that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is proposing to move the bison to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Gov. Schweitzer is adamant that the bison belong to the state of Montana and stay in Montana; he proposes moving them to the National Bison Range in the western part of the state and is blocking all shipments of fish and wildlife out of the state. The Department of the Interior believes transferring the bison to the National Bison Range will “stigmatize” the existing herd, although all bison slated for transfer have been found to be free of brucellosis. An alternate to transferring the bison is slaughtering them as has happened in years past. The projected number of bison expected to leave the park in search of food this winter is 1,000. Read the full AP article.


January, 2011: Limited food supplies within Yellowstone National Park in winter months leave hungry bison with little choice but to migrate to lower elevations not blanketed in snow. While park officials have made serious efforts to keep the animals from leaving the park, they have had little success. This year the roaming bison are being herded to holding pens at the Stephens Creek facility inside Yellowstone and, for the first time, the Brogan Bison facility at Corwin Springs. In total over 500 bison are currently being held at the two facilities.

Much of the controversy surrounding the wandering Yellowstone bison boils down to a disease some, not all, of the animals carry–*brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can cause cattle to miscarry, and is transferable between several species of animal. Ranchers have good reason to keep their cattle away from bison and other infected animals (elk can also carry the disease)–once a population becomes infected the cost to ranchers becomes immense (due to testing and slaughter expenses) and Montana ranchers are intent on maintaining their brucellosis-free standing.

In the past, as the Yellowstone holding pens reached capacity officials have been left with little choice but to send some bison to slaughter, a move that angered many, including Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer recently passed a 90-day halt on the slaughter of Yellowstone bison.  The bill allows for enough time to herd bison back into the park come May 15, after the so-called “green-up” when the snow is melted and grass sprouts.

Currently incoming bison are sorted into infected and non-infected pens at the Stephens Creek facility. Some of the disease-free bison are then transferred to the Brogan facility; come spring the healthy bison will be returned to the park. A decision has not been made about the fate of the infected bison following the 90-day reprieve.

The holding pens, while an improvement over mass slaughter, are not a long-term solution for corralling hungry, wild bison. Montana lawmakers and the federal government have been working on a solution for years although previous agreements have yet to come to fruition.

 

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3 Responses

  1. And how many acres of land do you have in the Park? And you can’t find some more acrage for a third and fourth herd? What is wrong with the biologists up there. I’m against killing of any of the animals up there unless they are in pain and can’t be saved. If for some reason you just can’t find a way to move some animals, why not offer them free to zoos or ranchers who promise not to slaughter them. Many people in the midwest raise bison just to have them back on the prairie again – offer the animals to them. But I can’t see with all the land that some place can’t be found for them. As a taxpayer, I feel that you are killing MY animals. I love the Park and the bison and other animals are a big part of the experience.

    As an aside, spent a week there Oct 2012. Was bummed because we hadn’t seen a bear this trip. But on a rarely used backroad – won’t say which for fear some gun lover will run up there – saw 2 wolves up close. They ran in front of the car, then stopped and looked at us as long as we were still. What beautiful animals!! what a great experience!! I totally forgot to get out my camera, but they probabl

    Jean GruenenfelderJanuary 10, 2013 @ 10:50 pm
  2. I Agree Find More Space!!! The Park is home for the Bison there is more than enough space for them to survive & live safely inside the park. Now you sound like the gun happy hunters that kill the wolves! The bison should not be killed just because there are too many. At least they aren’t on the endangered list the park should be proud of that. Can’t believe they are even thinking about killing them, think about it, it sounds crazy. Let them roam free in the park. Its true it is our park too & we should be able to decide as to what goes on that affects the animals.

  3. I know that un restricted growth of bison herds can mean greater problems for survival of red dogs and viability in restricted spaces.. However, didn’t we hear all summer that one of the wolf packs was either greatly diminished or eliminated.. Instead of culling the herds, why can’t we divert part of each herd to other lands where wolves are hunting and breeding to strengthen the packs and their survival too..



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