Access to Year-Round Habitat

On December 22, 2015, Montana Governor Steve Bullock released a long-awaited decision to allow wild Yellowstone bison year-round access to habitat in southwest Montana. The decision allows modest year-round tolerance for bison on the west-side of Yellowstone National Park (both sexes) on more than 250,000 acres, and year-round tolerance for bull bison in the Gardiner Basin on the north side of the park.

For years, GYC has worked tirelessly towards increasing tolerance for bison in Montana outside Yellowstone Park and priming the landscape for the return of this iconic species, through grazing allotment buyouts, land leases, and our ongoing coexistence and conflict reduction work. This past year we worked closely with the state of MT on a plan to help realize the vision of bison roaming beyond park boundaries year-round. Though the landscape and number of bison is less than we wanted, this monumental decision represents a significant step in the right direction toward realizing the vision of Yellowstone bison managed as valued and native “wildlife”. This decision will give the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and other partner agencies the opportunity to demonstrate that they can successfully manage bison outside the park year-round, starting with a low-conflict area and manageable numbers of bison. Most importantly, this decision opens the door toward more bison on a larger landscape in the future, reducing, or in most cases eliminating, the need for spring hazing operations west of the park that push bison back into Yellowstone.

Copyright: Len Trout

Copyright: Len Trout

This decision represents a significant step in the right direction for the following reasons:

Photo credit:  Tom Murphy

Photo credit:  Tom Murphy

  • Careful and Thoughtful Expansion with no Additional Risk to the Livestock Industry: This decision will give the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and other partner agencies the opportunity to demonstrate that they can successfully manage bison outside the park year-round, starting with a low-conflict area and manageable numbers of bison, with no additional risk to the livestock industry.
  • Meaningful Habitat Expansion: It provides for a meaningful amount of habitat expansion for bison to use year-round (over 250,000 acres) on the west-side of Yellowstone National Park. 
  • A Reduction in Intensive Management Will Save Taxpayer Money and Resources: This decision will save money and resources by allowing more effective and targeted management in response to real conflicts as they arise on the landscape compared to the current inflexible blanket approach that uses intensive and unnecessary management practices. 
  • Reduced Hazing: Allowing some bison to be on this landscape year-round should significantly reduce or in most cases eliminate the need for spring hazing operations to move bison back in to the Park on the West-side. This is a significant win.
  • Adaptive Management: The true adaptive framework of this decision allows for adjusting tolerance and management actions based on lessons learned, changing conditions, and in response to successful management of bison on the landscape year-round. 
  • More Fair-chase Hunting Opportunities: In the long-term, this decision has the potential to allow for a significant increase in public and tribal fair-chase hunting opportunities and the use of hunting as the primary tool for bison population management. This constitutes a huge step in the right direction towards shifting the paradigm of bison management to one that treats bison as wildlife and results in fewer or (ideally) no bison being shipped to slaughter.
  • New IBMP Guidance: This decision will help guide/inform the new Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) process and allow for some smart forward movement in the interim period before the new plan is finalized and implemented.

This decision is not the end of the road for bison. More work remains and we need your continued support.  We are committed to working with landowners and the State of Montana to ensure this plan is successful and creates opportunities for more bison in more places in the future so we can finally put an end to the senseless slaughter of bison once and for all.

Copyright: Tom Murphy

Copyright: Tom Murphy

We will continue our work to reduce and, where possible, eliminate potential conflicts in order to open up more areas for bison to use year-round outside the park. Join us now and help us reach our goal of securing more than 400,000 acres of year-round habitat for bison outside of Yellowstone’s north and west boundaries. We are now more than two-thirds the way there with the Governor’s recent decision!