Last Wild Bison Persist Despite Montana Wildlife Politics

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A twenty-year old activist blocked the access road to Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek bison trap, preventing more of the last wild bison from being shipped to slaughter. As well, the Montana Supreme Court recently supported efforts to expand bison migratory habitat north of the park in the Gardiner Basin.

buffalo wild in Yellowstone National Park

Running wild just south of the park boundary at Gardiner, Montana, the buffalo run wild. Photo By Jack Eidt.

Activist Stops the Montana Wild Buffalo Traps

This year, more than 450 wild buffalo have been captured in Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek bison trap, located in the Gardiner Basin. Most of the buffalo have been and will be shipped to slaughter, while some are going to government research facilities. More than 318 bison have been shipped to slaughter and 270 more have been killed outside of the park by state and treaty hunters.

The InterTribal Buffalo Council, a federally chartered bison ranching organization, had been taking captured buffalo from Yellowstone to tribal slaughter facilities.

Nez Perce tribal member and member of Buffalo Field Campaign’s board of directors, James Holt remarked, “It is painful to watch these tribal entities take such an approach to what should be the strongest advocacy and voice of protection. It is one thing to treat their own fenced herds in this manner, it is quite another to push that philosophy onto the last free-roaming herds in existence.”


Buffalo Wild – Poem By John Trudell, music by Good Shield and Mignon Geli and video produced by Mike Mease of Buffalo Field Campaign.

“During my time in Gardiner,” said 20-year old Comfrey Jacobs from Grand Junction, Colorado, “I was feeling helpless as I watched wild buffalo lured and trapped, fed hay like livestock, tortured with sorting and testing, and eventually crammed into livestock trailers headed for slaughter facilities, while simultaneously bison were being hunted just outside the Park boundary.”

Jacobs decided to risk his freedom by blocking the road to prevent livestock trailers from accessing the trap before more wild bison could be loaded onto trailers destined for slaughter facilities. He handcuffed himself to a hunter orange 55-gallon barrel filled with concrete, and wire-mesh webbing spanning the entrance to the roadway, which is closed to public access. The day following Jacobs’ blockade, Yellowstone National Park issued their only press release for this year’s controversial bison operations, announcing that the Stephens Creek bison trap was empty and Yellowstone had no further plans to capture this season.

Sometimes civil disobedience has an effect.

buffalo, Yellowstone

Each year, officials execute the Interagency Bison Management Plan that forcibly prevents wild bison’s natural migration with hazing, capture, slaughter, quarantine and hunting. Photo credit: Buffalo Field Campaign

Bison Population Levels Based on Politics, Not Science

Yellowstone and its partners in the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) have set an arbitrary population target of 3,000-3,500 bison, yet a Yellowstone bison carrying capacity study has determined that the Park can sustain upwards of 6,200 wild bison. Additionally, there are tens of thousands of acres of public lands surrounding Yellowstone that could sustain thousands more.

“The population target set by the IBMP is an arbitrary number based on politics, not science,” said Stephany Seay, of BFC. “Yellowstone completed a bison carrying capacity study in 2009, which determined that the Park could sustain upwards of 6,200 wild bison just within Yellowstone’s interior, additionally, there are tens of thousands of acres of public land surrounding Yellowstone that bison should be allowed to access year-round.”

The current buffalo population numbers approximately 4,400 (1,300 in the Central Interior and 3,100 in the Northern range). The Central Interior subpopulation also migrates north into the Gardiner basin and has not recovered from the last Park-led slaughter in 2008 that killed over half of the Central Interior buffalo. The government’s “population target” makes no distinction for conserving subpopulations in this unique buffalo herd.

The Montana Supreme Court recently supported efforts to expand bison habitat north of Yellowstone National Park into the Gardiner Basin. The nation’s wild bison will now have access to naturally migrate north of the Park boundary. Additionally, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks allowing Yellowstone bison access to additional habitat – 421,000 acres – west of the park in Hebgen Basin.

The Last of a Wild Legacy

The wild bison of Yellowstone are the most significant bison populations in the world, the last continuously wild bison to exist in their native habitat since prehistoric times. They are the direct descendants to the tens of millions that once thundered across North America. Currently, wild, migratory bison are ecologically extinct throughout their historic range with fewer than 4,200 existing in and around Yellowstone and, temporarily, in Montana. They are free of cattle genes and the only bison to hold their identity as a wildlife species. North America’s largest land mammal, wild bison are a keystone species critical to the health and integrity of grasslands and prairie ecosystems.

For more information on the scientific myopia of state and federal wildlife managers on the brucellosis issue, click here. For more information on the clash between wild bison and ranching issues, click here.


Wild Buffalo Migration Memory Can’t Be Killed – Buffalo Field Campaign

Buffalo Field Campaign is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone’s wild bison, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor the sacredness of wild bison. BFC has its headquarters in West Yellowstone, Montana, and is supported by volunteers and participants around the world who value America’s native wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

For more information visit Buffalo Field Campaign on the web http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/

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Jack Eidt

About Jack Eidt

Writer, urban theorist, and environmental advocate, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion - Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com.