Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation
Bison Herd

American Plains Bison book by Dan Bailey

American Plains Bison
Rewilding an Icon

By James A. Bailey

What's Happening...

Re-Introducing Bill to Improve Conservation, Management
Proposed Bison Bill for 2015 Montana Legislature

Bison Unfairly Cast as Brucellosis Villains
Part 3 and Part 4 by Todd Wilkinson

Letter to Interagency Bison Management Planning Partners
A Response to Montana Department of Livestock Proposal to Further Restrict Greater Yellowstone
Bison Habitat (pdf)

Wild Buffalo ManagementóResponsibility of Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks
Proposed Bison Bill for Montana 2013 Legislature (pdf)

Montanans Voice Overwhelming Support for Restoring Bison
Poll Results (pdf)

9th Circuit Upholds Yellowstone Park Bison Slaughter
Billings Gazette Article

Gallatin Wildlife Association Comments on Bison Entering Montana from Yellowstone
To Joint Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks/Department of Livestock Bison Habitat EA (pdf)

Native Habitat for Americaís Last Wild Buffalo Is Guaranteed by Treaty, Tribes Say
Indian Country Today Media Network Article & Video

Are There Any Wild Bison In Our Future?
by Jim Bailey, PhD, Retired Wildlife Biologist

Update January 2012
From YBF President, Joe Gutkoski

A Public Comment
re: Interagency Bison Management Plan

Hazing Is Cruel And Unnecessary
Editorial by YBF President, Joe Gutkoski

YBF Joins Suit To Seek Emergency Injunction To
Prevent Slaughter of Yellowstone Bison

Buffalo Field Campaign Press Release

Billings Gazette News Article...
Bison Corralled For Slaughter As Activists Ask Court For Halt

Hearing On Lawsuit Over Wild Bison Hazing
September 20, 2010

Buffalo Field Campaign Press Release
Billings Gazette | Helena Independent Record

Press Release - March 23, 2010
YBF Joins Suit to Protect Quarantined Bison & Public Trust
Lawsuit Seeks to Secure Public Access to Bison and Prevent Privatization of Calves

Letter to Regional Forester
Petition to designate Bison as a sensitive species in Region One

Press Release - November 9, 2009
Conservationists File Suit Against Federal Agencies to End Bison Slaughter
Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation
a plaintiff

The Sad and Shameful Situation of the Yellowstone Buffalo

Church Universal & Triumphant Bison Easement Deal

Published Editorials

Yellowstone Buffalo

Brucellosis Research

Regionalizing Brucellosis Can Be A Win/Win Solution

Buffalo In The Greater Yellowstone Area

Article in New West about Fish, Wildlife & Parks Scoping Period on Bison Hunt

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Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation
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Montana Wild Buffalo Recovery
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American Buffalo


Yellowstone Buffalo

Bison or BuffaloThe Yellowstone wild, free, roaming buffalo are a unique wildlife resource to Montana and the nation. Certainly we can fashion a Montana solution that shares the land with our buffalo and their annual movements without slaughtering them when they step into Montana. Buffalo provided food, clothing, and shelter for the Indians. They fed the explorer and railroad builder. Without the buffalo, the West would have been a land of starvation. It is only right that we make a permanent place for them in Montana, managed as wildlife.

In the early 1800's there were sixty million roaming free on the prairies and mountains of North America. In the late 1800's they were commercially slaughtered by the thousands for their tongue and hump meat, robes and dried bone. The U.S. Army encouraged the buffalo slaughter in order to subdue the Plains Indian. If you did away with the Indian's food and shelter source you could more easily subdue them and place them on marginal land reservations. Cattle grazers, sod busters and land speculators then occupied the plains. Railroad builders were given grants of land far beyond reason. Within the Musselshell River area in central Montana lived the last survivors of the great Northern Buffalo herds. In 1885 President Theodore Roosevelt sensed the buffalo may become extinct and sent Smithsonian taxidermist William Temple Hornaday to collect buffalo specimens so the Americans may remember what buffalo looked like. With the help of the US Army, Hornaday got his skins to the trailhead at Miles City in the nick of time to avoid the historic blizzards of 1886. Jack Drew, a local rancher, showed us Hornaday’s camp at the head of McGinnis Creek, a tributary of Big Porcupine Creek, east of Mosby in the Big Open.

The destruction of the buffalo herds was a loss of American wealth many times greater than what it would have cost to conserve them. This stupendous waste was committed by one class of American people against Indians and permitted by our leaders with inexcusable extravagance and carelessness.

By 1890, fewer than 1,000 buffalo remained in North America. By 1902 only 23 buffalo were counted in Pelican Valley which is located just east of Yellowstone Lake outlet. In 1905, 21 buffalo were reintroduced into the Park to improve genetics and eventually all were moved into the Lamar Valley. In 1936 buffalo from the Lamar herd were moved into the Hayden Valley and Firehole country. Starting in 1940, buffalo that reproduced beyond the carrying capacity of the range either starved or were killed by Park rangers. By 1954 there were 1,477 wild, free roaming buffalo within the Park wintering in three distinct herds: 1) Gardiner, Blacktail, Lamar; 2) Hayden Valley, Mary Mountain, Firehole; 3) Pelican Valley. In 1966, Yellowstone Park managers adopted a policy of "natural management," that meant no more killing within Park boundaries. It was a response to complaints from Park supporters against slaughtering wildlife inside a national park. Through the years Montana State sold hunting licenses for buffalo that migrated across Park boundaries. Sportsmen applied for the hunting permits and a certain amount of population control was accomplished along with trophy and meat harvesting. The restless buffalo were allowed to roam into Montana with little notice of their coming and going. In 1984, in response to rancher's complaints in the Gardiner Basin, Montana game wardens slaughtered 88 buffalo that wondered outside the Park. There was much waste and spoilage of meat and hides.

Montana hunters then put pressure on the 1985 legislature in Helena, which resulted in a state law "reaffirming buffalo as a legitimate game animal". This allowed a reemphasis on public licensed hunters, harvesting surplus buffalo, outside Park boundaries. Discrete fund raising public hunts followed, with hunters harvesting, removing and utilizing all of the carcasses with no waste of meat, trophy heads or hides. Hunting is fundamental to Montanans. We must reaffirm the public ownership of wild buffalo and the responsibility of Montana State Fish, Wildlife & Parks to manage them. After buffalo are allowed to occupy the public lands in the Gardiner, West Yellowstone, and Taylor Fork basins year round and their populations become necessary to regulate, only then can hunting be allowed as a public harvest, participated in by many and open to all. The objective is to pass on to our children a public owned native buffalo managed as wildlife on public land unaltered by changes.

Population Growth

In 1988, the buffalo population numbered 3,500 due to seven preceding mild winters and buffalo winter range expansion over snow mobile packed and groomed roads. The forage was nutritionally depleted by over grazing, drought and the large wildfires of 1988. During the winter of 1988-89, snow depth and cold temperatures forced the buffalo to lower elevations, resulting in the widest migration in over 100 years. Livestock grazers in the upper Yellowstone Valley complained about the migrating buffalo knocking over fences, eating their grass and threatening brucellosis disease to their cattle.

The Montana State Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) opened a planned special hunt, which took place along highways and roads outside the boundaries of Yellowstone Park. The hunt was highly visible to anti-hunting activists with their video camcorders. Capitulating to the demands of cattlemen, FWP used no discretion in managing the hunt and when the shooting was over, 569 buffalo were killed all in plain sight of the viewing public. News coverage of the fate of the great beasts caused a national uproar. People across the country could not understand why the buffalo were not allowed to migrate to winter forage areas. Hunters took all of the blame. In fact, the reason so many buffalo were shot was the caving in of the FWP to pressure from cattlemen. Discrete, efficient, fundraising, public hunts were turned into an unacceptable slaughter of a wildlife resource, in full view of an enraged public. Montana's Governor Stevens was embarrassed and could not stand the heat from the nation. He refused to run for his second term.

Montana Law

Subsequently a law was passed in the 1991 legislature, rescinding the authority for permitting buffalo hunting in Montana, although the law still recognizes buffalo as wildlife. Then in 1995, the legislature passed a law transferring management authority of buffalo to the Department of Livestock (DOL). Thus began a series of winter slaughter by the DOL culminating in the shooting of over 1,000 buffalo in the winter of 1997. Infection of brucellosis from buffalo to cattle was the reason given. In reality it is a form of retaliation of the western livestock industry from fear and hate toward the federal government and the environmental movement. Yellowstone buffalo are owned by the federal government who is blamed for restrictions on over-grazing the public lands, predator control, water rights and reintroducing the wolf.

It is a convenient excuse to remove the wild, free roaming buffalo in order to keep them from competing with cattle for red meat production and repopulating the plains.

Montana law recognizes buffalo as wildlife and as a game animal, held in trust by the State, for the people. Montanans are the owners of all non-confined buffalo with management responsibilities now changed from FWP to the DOL. Montana law also recognizes domestic bison as livestock, raised on fenced ranches for meat, hides, shooter bulls, trophy heads and breeding stock. These are not wild, free roaming buffalo and should not be considered as such.

Buffalo Reproduction

We have learned that buffalo will reproduce and occupy their entire habitat and will move to occupy additional habitat if allowed. Population control is necessary because over grazing will deplete the range. The discrete hunting of buffalo on their winter ranges outside the Park is an obvious solution to control buffalo numbers. What is needed is the acquisition of migration corridors and winter forage areas where licensed public hunters can discretely harvest surplus animals.

We can have a sustainable wild, migrating buffalo herd that summers on the lush high ranges of Yellowstone Park and winters on lower elevation National Forest and Montana State Fish, Wildlife & Parks winter ranges, year round grazing.

Henry Mountains Example

A good example of a successful, wild, free roaming buffalo herd, on public land, is in the Henry Mountains of Utah, where 18 buffalo, 15 cows and 3 bulls were translocated in 1941 from Yellowstone Park. In 1942, 5 new bulls were reintroduced when the 3 original bulls became separated. The 5 new bulls moved the herd west across the Dirty Devil River and into the Burr Desert. By 1948, the herd became well established and wintered on the tablelands west of the river and summered on the high slopes and basins of the east slope of the Henry Mountains. The herd now numbers between 500-600 buffalo. To balance buffalo numbers with available forage, Utah has a lottery permit hunting season. In 1960, ten hunting permits were sold. In 1970, forty-five permits were sold and 1990 sixty-nine permits were sold by the Utah Division of Wildlife. The Henry Mountains wild, free roaming buffalo is a success story of game animals occupying a habitat not suited for cattle and serving as an aesthetic, historical and recreational resource.

Acquiring Buffalo Winter Range is Everybody’s Duty

Following is some partial legislative history indicating we are all responsible for obtaining a proper solution to migrating buffalo herds outside of Yellowstone Park.

The Congress of 1910 was concerned with the wild, free roaming game herds of Yellowstone Park and adjacent National Forests. They passed an action June 25, 1910 proclaiming that the lands north of Gardner outside Park boundaries be acquired into public ownership and withdrawn from cattle grazing for the purpose of “a game preserve to assist in solving the difficult problem of protection of game herds within the vicinity of the Park.” This was reaffirmed by President Woodrow Wilson’s Executive Order of April 16, 1917, to accomplish the above purpose.

Again the Congress of 1926 passed a law to “improve and extend the winter feed ranges on the lands adjacent to Yellowstone Park.” This was reaffirmed by President Herbert Hoover’s proclamation of October 20, 1932 to accomplish the above purpose.

These historic acts of Congress and Presidential Executive orders indicate that protecting and managing basic buffalo, elk, deer and antelope herds migrating out of the Park is not only a Park Service problem but a responsibility of us all, to assure wild, free roaming game herds for future generations.

The solutions are straightforward but difficult to accomplish and requires all of our good efforts. Secure winter forage areas outside Park boundaries is what we need. Harvest the surplus animals through discrete, efficient money-making public hunts plus translocations. This will balance buffalo numbers to the available habitats carrying capacity, and keep buffalo and cattle separated to solve the brucellosis issue.

Brucellosis in Buffalo

Yellowstone buffalo have lived with brucellosis for over 80 years since they were infected by domestic cattle. Cattle originally evolved in North Africa and were subsequently brought to North America from Europe. There is no recorded scientific basis that buffalo reinfect cattle or any reason for the drastic and costly capture, testing and slaughtering of buffalo, to reduce the risk of transmission to cattle. Most of the buffalo tested do not have the disease or have developed immunity and test positive. A brucellosis risk management policy is most economically effective. A brucellosis zero risk policy is very expensive and not proportionate to the severity of the consequence of a brucellosis outbreak. Livestock grazers should support mandatory vaccination of cattle in the West Yellowstone and Gardiner basins.

In the winter of 1998-99, 17 buffalo were killed by the Department of Livestock (DOL), and all tested positive for brucellosis. Only 2 were found to have the disease, therefore 15 had fought off the disease and had antibodies of immunity.

On January 1, 1999, the Agriculture Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requested a re-examination to soften its action against buffalo that leave Yellowstone Park in search of food. Montana Board of Livestock rebuffed the re-examination. APHIS defines low risk brucellosis buffalo as bulls, calves, non-pregnant females and females that have completely passed a placenta. These buffalo should be allowed to winter forage until 60 days before the permitted cattle return on June 15th. APHIS said such tolerance would not endanger Montana’s brucellosis-free status.

DOL’s definition of low risk is a buffalo that is not pregnant and has tested negative for exposure to brucellosis. This virtually means all buffalo are considered high risk and are shot, slaughtered or hazed back to the Park.

The Horse Butte buffalo trap permitted on National Forest land was completed in 1999. On January 22, 1999, the Duck Creek trap built previously on Mr. Koelzer’s private land trapped 19 buffalo. 13 tested positive and shipped to slaughter; all but 1 were bulls.

The National Academy of science report states the risk of brucellosis is small but not zero. A positive test on buffalo indicates the animal has been exposed to brucellosis at some time in his lifetime. Using the test for slaughter sends buffalo to death that don’t even have an active case of brucellosis, but in reality may be immune to the disease.

Yellowstone National park allowed a trap to be constructed at Stevens Creek within the Park. This mistaken policy is being perpetuated on our buffalo within the Park, in the Gardiner area. Park Service and Forest Service do not want to be accused of violating Montana’s state rights, so they are bending over backwards in allowing this cruel and unlawful hazing, capturing, testing and slaughter of one of our national symbols.

Brucellosis and U.S. Department of Homeland Security

When the federal Department of Homeland Security designated brucellosis as a select agent that may be developed as a Bio-Weapon of Mass Destruction, under the Homeland Security (Bio Terror) Act of 2002, it triggered large sums of federal dollars into Montana in fiscal year 2005.

$4,360,000 for Phase I, II, III Brucellosis buffalo quarantine facilities = $13,110 cost per buffalo emerging at the end of Phase III as a 4 year old buffalo free of brucellosis.

$441,000 to Montana State University for brucellosis vaccine research.

$895,000 to the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee.

$660,000 to Montana State Department of Livestock

$69,000 to Montana State Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

$6,900 to Federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA.

$1,200,000 to Yellowstone National Park for inoculating buffalo with RB-51 through bio pneumatic bullets at a range of 20 yards.

With this amount of dollars flowing into Montana, it is literally impossible to talk sensibly to the federal, state and research agencies about a practical method to manage brucellosis and delineate brucellosis management areas for this purpose. It has been shown that brucellosis is a manageable disease and there is no reason for the zero tolerance policy.

The livestock industry, with the support of governmental bodies, believes that buffalo represent a threat to the livestock industry, and are a symbol of the environmental movement, and the hated federal Department of Interior. The DOL haze, capture, test and slaughter buffalo as retaliation from fear and hate of the federal government and the environmental movement.

Brucellosis is a seasonal contagious disease with the window of infection from March 15 to June 1 from birthing material laying on the ground. Reproductive age female domestic cows are the class of livestock susceptible to contract the disease. Replacing them with brucellosis-proof cattle such as steers, yearlings, spayed heifers and cows to be slaughtered in the Fall and brucella vaccination are practical methods to continue grazing livestock on buffalo ranges.

Brucellosis is a manageable disease that is so endemic in the Greater Yellowstone Area that it can never be eliminated. We can regionalize the disease and delineate brucellosis management areas where timing and space separation can be a successful management tool. There is no sound scientific reason to continue the zero tolerance policy of hazing, capture, test, quarantine and slaughter of buffalo walking out of the Park looking for winter forage.

Current Status

Recently Governor Schweitzer requested that the Montana State Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Department of Livestock not participate in the hazing and capture of 845 buffalo to be loaded on trucks and transported to slaughterhouses. Since January 5th, 2006, the U. S. Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Yellowstone National Park Service crews and the U.S. Homeland Security agents are leading in moving the captured buffalo from Yellowstone to slaughter plants in Montana and Idaho, a distance of over 500 highway miles. More than $181,300 has been spent including $42,000 for 7 U.S. Homeland Security agents and $9,000 for Park County Sheriff’s Office help. The program has not been cheap. APHIS has spent $4,300,000 on buffalo since 2002 including funds for research, testing, personnel and equipment. Most of the buffalo were caught in the Stephens Creek trap inside YNP with National Park Service employees participating by killing wildlife.

The buffalo quarantine facilities Phases I, II, and III places a legitimacy on hazing, capture, testing, quarantine and slaughter under the guise of research. Federal agencies hope that after 4 plus years of quarantine a buffalo will emerge, free of brucellosis at a cost of $13,100 per animal. Phases I and II quarantine and fencing will block buffalo and elk movement to winter ranges on the east side of the Yellowstone River below Gardiner. Habitat purchased for wildlife winter range in Bear Creek, Eagle Creek, Phelps Creek, Little Trail Creek, Bassett Creek, Cedar Creek, Slip & Slide Creek, Dome Mountain and Daily Lake areas are waiting for buffalo. Quarantine diverts attention from enlarging buffalo habitat and refining migration corridors to winter habitat.

The mistaken policy is now occurring in Idaho where 240 elk were captured and tested on January 25, 2006 at the Muddy Creek trap where 41 were sent to slaughter and 1 was euthanized due to injury. On February 15, 2006, 131 elk were captured and those that tested positive were sent to slaughter. Brucellosis will not be eliminated by killing wildlife.

Managing Yellowstone buffalo as wildlife, instead of diseased livestock, will open up many recreation opportunities that would be an economic plus for Montana. Certainly we can fashion a unique Montana solution that shaves the land with our buffalo and their comings and goings. For the Gardiner and West Yellowstone areas it is a step in the right direction. As wildlife biologist Jim Posewitz said, “Montana still has the opportunity to do it right. After that is accomplished let the other states feel free to follow.”

Joe Gutkoski, Founder and Vice President of Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation
February 22, 2006
Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation
Bison Herd
304 N 18th Avenue
Bozeman, MT 59715
Tel: 406-587-9181