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Yellowstone Bison: Room to roam at last?
Update: The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Montana Department of Livestock issued a scoping notice in July 2013, seeking public comment on a proposal to allow Yellowstone bison in several places: the Hebgen Basin, Gardiner Basin (bulls only), Cabin Creek Recreation & Wildlife Management Area, upper Gallatin River corridor and the Monument Mountain Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. All are on the Gallatin National Forest.
GYC supported Alternative B; a plan that would allow Yellowstone bison to roam freely on as many as 421,000 acres outside Yellowstone National Park. We asked our supports to submit comments, which were due in September. To read about the alternatives, and our support of Alternative B, click here.
Overview: For more than a half-century, Yellowstone bison were the only wildlife in the U.S. largely confined by the boundary lines of a national park. Now, we might be closer to having this treasure trove of genetically pure wild bison roaming free outside of the park's boundaries year-round.
Wild bison from Yellowstone National Park are some of the most intensely tested wildlife in the country. Because some of the Yellowstone bison herd carries the disease brucellosis - a disease that can abort calves in ungulates like cattle - many cattle ranchers in Montana are worried about bison transferring the disease to their cattle. It gets complicated, however, because elk carry the same disease and they aren't tested. Moreover, it has never been proven that bison have ever transferred the disease. Even so, wild bison are often captured and tested when they wonder out of Yellowstone and into the state of Montana.
After all the testing, when Yellowstone bison are repeatedly proven to be disease-free, some bison have been allowed to be transferred to appropriate lands, including two Native American Indian Reservations in Montana; Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. In 2013, a few days after the 62 arrived at Fort Peck (64 started the journey, but two died), a judge prohibited the shipment of the animals in Montana, but it's still just a matter of time before more Yellowstone bison are moved to appropriate landscapes across the West.
A few months later, Montana’s Legislative session attacked bison, and introduced 10 bills, many of which threatened to set bison management back 150 years. They ranged from preventing Yellowstone bison from coming anywhere into the state to allowing landowners to shoot them on sight. GYC was an advocate working on behalf of Yellowstone bison in Helena, where we were joined by Indian tribes and other supporters of free-roaming bison on appropriate landscapes.
Fortunately, and with the voice of our members and other Yellowstone advocates sending a clear and powerful message, we were able to beat back these bad bills.
And just recently, the Montana Supreme Court cleared the way for a small herd of Yellowstone bison at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to move as originally planned to the neighboring Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. A lower-court ruling earlier this year had prohibited the transfer of the Yellowstone bison across the state. We hope this helps clear the way for other disease-free Yellowstone bison to be relocated on appropriate landscapes across Montana and the West.
The winter of 2007-08 is still fresh in our minds when nearly 1,600 wild Yellowstone bison were captured and hauled in trucks for slaughter at meatpacking plants. The transfer of wild Yellowstone bison to Fort Peck, Fort Belknap and other suitable landscapes across the West will help ensure we never see a repeat of this atrocity again.
Goals: We are working toward a day when Yellowstone bison can roam freely on appropriate public and private lands through policy changes by federal and state agencies and wildlife managers, retirements of cattle grazing operations, and negotiations with landowners.
Photo: Cindy Goeddel.
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VIDEO: Watch this video on our work to protect bison.
Download a printable synopsis on our bison work here.
Download a printable PDF map of the bison's historic and current range here.
Download this map, which explains the current management situation for bison.
November 22, 2013 - Livestock department to vaccinate park bison
November 04, 2013 - National Bison Day
November 01, 2013 - Honoring an American Icon with National Bison Day
October 21, 2013 - Baby steps on bison: Game agency easing back into hot-button issue
October 21, 2013 - Bison carcass draws feeding frenzy of grizzlies, wolves in Yellowstone Park