GYC Bison Conservation Update

Yellowstone’s bison should be managed like the native wildlife that they are. In recent months, we’ve experienced several victories for bison in Montana and we’re excited for these wins and continued progress.

A bison calf, or red dog, in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo Cindy Goeddel.)

A bison calf, or red dog, in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo Cindy Goeddel.)

Legislative

During the 2019 Montana Legislative session, two very bad bison bills ended up on Governor Steve Bullock’s desk to be signed into law. HB 132 would have modified the definition of wild bison, disqualifying ALL bison from being used to restore wild herds in Montana. HB 332 would have given decision making power to politicians over scientists at the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission when it comes to bison translocation and restoration in the state. We are so grateful Governor Bullock VETOED both horrible bills in the name of bison conservation!

Agency Work

On April 24, GYC participated in the Interagency Bison Management Program’s field trip to Beattie Gulch, just north of Yellowstone. Beattie Gulch is where many bison attempt to migrate out of the park and is the first place hunters have a legal opportunity to harvest bison. This creates a unique conflict that limits bison distribution and hunting opportunity. Hunting so close to the park scares bison back into the park and is a safety concern with locals.

It was an eye-opening experience to hear from and talk to people in the community about their concerns, which included stray bullets near homes, gut piles attracting bears, and bison being pushed back in to the park. We are excited to work with residents, agency and NGO partners, and the tribes to create a bison hunt plan that is safe for people and balances hunting with population management goals. In addition, we are striving for broader bison dispersal on the landscape.

A herd of bison moving through northern Yellowstone. (Photo Cindy Goeddel.)

A herd of bison moving through northern Yellowstone. (Photo Cindy Goeddel.)

Bison Quarantine and Translocation

In February 2019, we celebrated the first group of bison to leave the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem alive as part of the new Yellowstone quarantine and translocation program. Five bull bison from Yellowstone were moved from the quarantine facility to the Fort Peck Reservation to complete their quarantine process. Bison are quarantined to ensure they are not carrying brucellosis, a disease that can affect cattle and cause the loss of unborn calves (though there has never been a documented case of brucellosis being transferred from bison to cattle).

We have long advocated for such a program; using disease-free Yellowstone bison to establish other tribal and conservation herds. This would not only contribute to the conservation and restoration of the species to portions of its native range, but also serves as an alternative to shipping Yellowstone bison to slaughter to manage bison numbers. We also think it’s important to help support the culture and nutrition of Native Americans and help preserve the unique Yellowstone bison genome. More bison are planned for translocation to Fort Peck, including 58 bull bison in the fall of 2019 and 21 female bison in 2021.

Though this is an important step in the right direction, there is limited space for bison in existing quarantine facilities outside Yellowstone. Montana politics and existing state laws continue to challenge the effectiveness of this program. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is working hard to change both and hope the quarantine and translocation program will continue to grow in order to reduce the slaughter of Yellowstone’s bison.

-Shana Drimal, Wildlife Conservation Associate