This 1894 photo of Yellowstone soldiers posing with bison killed by a poacher led to national public outcry and spurred Congress to give the Army the power to prosecute park violaters. Photo by NPS

A 1894 photo of Yellowstone soldiers posing with bison killed by a poacher led to national public outcry and spurred Congress to give the Army the power to prosecute park violaters.

Park spearheads national effort to save an endangered species.

During the park’s early days, people still hunted in the park. That changed radically in 1894 when Army soldiers in Yellowstone captured bison poacher Edgar Howell and posed with eight of the confiscated bison heads (pictured above). Extensive media coverage of Howell’s capture and the public outcry that followed led to the passage of the Lacey Act, which prohibited hunting, capturing or killing wild animals in the park and gave the Army authority to prosecute criminal activity.

At the time, bison were teetering on the brink of extinction after being slaughtered for hides, sport and to weaken the Plains Indians who depended on bison for food, clothing and shelter.

With only 23 bison left in Yellowstone in 1916, park managers began some of the nation’s first efforts to save an endangered species. Today 4,900 bison roam free in the park. Tension does exist between park managers and Montana landowners who fear roaming bison will transmit brucellosis to livestock. As part of a controversial agreement between Montana officials and federal agencies, park managers kill some bison annually to reduce their numbers.

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