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Yellowstone Bison: Room to roam at last?

Latest News: Thanks in large part to GYC’s effort to secure more habitat for bison outside Yellowstone National Park, today bison are roaming north of Yellowstone in the Gardiner basin. The Montana Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal brought by Park County to prevent habitat expansion in the Gardiner basin. Our nation’s wild bison will now continue to have access to habitat north of the Park boundary when they migrate each winter!

Meanwhile, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has put forth a proposal to allow bison year round in several places on public lands: most notably, the Hebgen Basin, Gardiner Basin and the upper Gallatin River corridor. GYC supports an alternative that would allow Yellowstone bison to roam on habitat on as many as 421,000 acres outside the park. 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 wander 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 Indian Reservations in Montana: Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. In 2012, 62 arrived at Fort Peck, Later that year, a judge prohibited other bison to be transferred to Fort Belknap. But in 2013, the Montana Supreme Court cleared the way for 34 of those Yellowstone bison to arrive at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation

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.

Project 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.


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  • The 4,200 bison in Yellowstone constitute the largest genetically pure (no cattle genes) and only continuously wild herd in the United States.
  • Yellowstone bison seasonally migrate northward along the Yellowstone River and westward down the Madison River in search of winter forage outside the Park boundaries.
  • State and federal wildlife managers have undertaken a research program to prove that brucellosis-free bison from Yellowstone can safely be relocated to new ranges.
  • Montana is working on a statewide bison management plan to allow establishment of free-ranging bison herds elsewhere in the state.

Barb Cestero, Montana Director

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