The Force of the Horse

Stop Slaughter of Yellowstone Bison

by GEORGE WUERTHNER as published on the Billings Gazette

“Again, the Feds team up with Welfare Ranchers to destroy and slaughter yet another species of America’s wild four legged National Heritage” ~ R.T.

bison-slaughter-yellowstoneThe proposal to butcher another 900-1,000 of Yellowstone’s genetically unique wild bison is a crime against the world’s global heritage.

It reflects badly on the people of Montana that they tolerate this annual slaughter to go on. It also exhibits poor judgement on the part of hunters, tribal members, and others who participate or sanction this crime against nature and our national patrimony.

Yellowstone’s bison herd is one of the few bison herds in the country free of cattle genes, and one of the only bison herds that have remained continuously wild. There is genuine aesthetic and ecological value in wildness. But by slaughtering Yellowstone’s bison (or to use the clinically sanitized term “culling”), we are destroying Yellowstone’s wild bison.

Furthermore, the annual removal of bison has real ecological consequences for other wildlife basically taking food out of the mouths of wolves, grizzlies, coyotes, ravens, magpies and other animals that kill or scavenge bison.

The park’s bison have gone through several genetic bottlenecks. At one time, the population numbered 25 animals. And previous years of slaughter and capture/shipment by the livestock industry and others outside of the park means the park’s bison have gone through repeated genetic reductions. Last year, for instance, 600 bison were killed.

This is made worse by the fact that bison are a tournament species, whereby dominant bulls do the majority of all breeding. This means the “effective” breeding population is much lower than the actual population numbers and, as a result, so is the genetic diversity.

The bison are being slaughtered under the pretense of protecting Montana’s livestock industry from brucellosis. This is a sham because there is no documented instance of a wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock.

For transmission to occur, a bison with active bacteria would have to abort her fetus. Then cattle would have to lick the aborted fetus or its fluid during the short time when the bacteria is still alive and before scavengers like coyotes, ravens and magpies find the dead fetus and consume it. Bison bulls and calves are regularly killed, demonstrating the fraudulent reasoning behind the bison slaughter.

Cattle can be vaccinated against the disease, and when combined with other strategies like preventing the overlap of bison and cattle use of pastures, the risk can be contained and is negligible.

What the livestock industry really fears is the spread of bison on public lands. Bison and cattle consume nearly the same foods. What the livestock industry wants to avoid is a debate over whether public bison or private cattle should get preferential access to public lands forage.

The other reason is that the livestock industry wants domination over our public wildlife. The control they exert over bison is part of a larger goal of controlling other wildlife species, including elk.

Killing Yellowstone’s bison is artificially skewing the bison herd to a younger age, and removing the natural processes of predation, starvation, and other factors that normally affect these animals.

The state of Montana is particularly culpable in the continued destruction of the park’s wild bison. The state has outlawed the shipping of live bison outside of a small zone except for transfer to slaughterhouses. This policy makes it impossible to relocate bison to other suitable public lands in Montana or to Indian reservations that want to start bison herds of their own.

Yellowstone’s wild bison must be recognized as a valued wildlife animal in Montana and throughout the West. Its unique genetic heritage is worthy of protection. We have a moral obligation to enhance and expand Yellowstone’s bison to the American West.

 George Wuerthner is an ecologist and author of 38 books, including three on Yellowstone National Park. He lives in Livingston and Oregon.


26 replies »

  1. Is there ANY species of wild animal that is safe from the Feds in collusion with the welfare ranchers?! The long list they seek to eradicate so far: BISON, WILD HORSES AND BURROS, WOLVES, COYOTES, AND FOXES. This is only a few, and does not include other species like snakes, who get the dubious honor of having “rodeos” named for them to celebrate who kills the most. They are wrecking America’s ecology and destroying beautiful iconic American wildlife.

    How about instead, revoke those free-graze permits on the AMERICAN PEOPLE’S public land and get your cattle OFF open range?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since there’s never been a case of infection from buffalo but yes, there has been from elk – yet elk are NOT restricted from leaving the Park. Make sense? Just another case of our “protection from starvation” of lets see, now – bison, wild horses & burros, (luckily neither hunting targets) and then there are the predator targets – wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears – all being culled! Possibly if there were some restriction of cattle grazing – horrors – how could I say that! But the “necessity” of culling wild animals might not be necessary if their habitat wasnt being constantly removed & used for development (human or fossil fuel or mining). No we do NOT want them starving to death – but preventing them from migrating from one grazing area to another or to a different water source? We treat them like domestic animals – fencing them in – preventing them from using a water source – as in the case of the bighorn sheep ridiculousness. What really do we expect?


  3. Last year, Congress passed the National Bison Legacy Act, designating buffalo as the national mammal. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has Red Listed Wild Bison as “Near Threatened”. The Montana Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has listed Wild Bison as a “Species of Concern”, a designation which denotes a native Montana species considered to be ‘at risk’ due to declining population trends, threats to their habitat and or restricted distribution. Scientists deem the last remaining genetically pure wild buffalo in and around the Yellowstone area to be ecologically extinct in their original range as they now occupy less than 1% of their original habitat.

    Wild bison’s historic range spanned hundreds of millions of acres throughout North America and although the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acknowledges that Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is the only place in the U.S. where wild bison have continuously existed since prehistoric times, they fail to consider wild bison’s historic range that spanned hundreds of millions of acres throughout North America. USFWS concluded that a petition to list the wild plains bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not contain substantial scientific data to indicate that the petitioned action might be warranted. Under a policy announced in March 2007 that undermines the intent of Congress, USFWS redefined how it determines whether a species is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” by defining significant range only where bison currently exist: YNP and the Gardiner Basin, north of Yellowstone.

    How can a handful of Montana livestock ranchers have the power to decide the fate of a clearly endangered species by driving them to extinction at will?

    In 1995, the Montana Legislature created a statute MCA 81-2-120 transferring the Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks’ authority to manage wild buffalo to the Department of Livestock (DOL). Livestock interests are strongly anti-wild buffalo viewing them as direct competitors with invasive, domestic cattle. Under DOL policies set down by MCA 81-2-120, the federal and state governments use your federal tax dollars to kill hundreds, sometimes over 1,000, of America’s last wild buffalo every year to pander to livestock industry intolerance of this native, keystone species. Additionally, the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) is the cattle industry approved plan called for in MCA 81-2-120. The IBMP would not exist were it not for MCA 81-2-120. All of the intensive management actions made against wild buffalo, including hazing, capture, and slaughter, occur because of MCA 81-2-120. As implemented by the DOL, MCA 81-2-120 severely limits the abundance and distribution of wild buffalo to less than 0.3% of Montana’s habitat. Wild bison remain ecologically extinct in Montana and throughout the their historic range. Placing the Montana DOL in charge of wild, migratory bison is a direct and serious conflict of interest. A new alternative is needed that values wild bison and manages them like wild elk in Montana.

    Moreover, when migratory buffalo leave the Park and dare to set foot into Montana in search of food during the harsh winter they are met with firing squads of hunters who have been previously alerted that wild bison have left the safety of the Park. The state of Montana makes it easy for hunters by providing a “Buffalo Hunt Hotline” so all they need do is make a quick call to find out if there are buffalo available along Yellowstone’s western or northern boundary. If the wild bison stay in the Park, they risk capture or starvation, if they leave the Park they are shot down like ducks in a gallery.

    The false brucellosis argument is also wearing thin as it is a known fact that there has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting the cattle disease to cattle. Elk are more prone to carrying this disease yet there are no calls for eliminating this favorite target of hunters. The current wild bison capture and slaughter operations being conducted have nothing to do with brucellosis and everything to do with the livestock industry and their false sense of entitlement to all of the grass in Montana.

    We must repeal MCA 81-2-120 and remove the Montana Department of Livestock’s authority over wild buffalo. The captures, experiments and slaughter must stop and these national treasures must be given more room to roam.

    End Capture and Slaughter of America’s Last Wild Buffalo:

    Repeal MCA 81-2-120 and Manage Wild Bison Like Wild Elk in Montana:

    Urge Legislators to Allocate Funding to Review the Science of Listing Wild Bison Under the ESA

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Has anyone seen the Mountain Men series on the History channel? It shows them trapping wildlife…wolverine, beaver, etc… very obvious and ominous corporate push for wildlife killing. WHO are the sponsors?



    To stop the harassment and slaughter of Yellowstone’s wild buffalo herds; protect the natural habitat of wild, free-roaming buffalo and other native wildlife; and work with all people-especially Indigenous Nations-to honor and protect the sacredness of the wild buffalo.
    We pursue our mission through a variety of coordinated strategies:

    In the field: Our volunteers conduct regular patrols to track and locate buffalo. Teams monitor buffalo movements; document herd activity with field notes, photographs, and video; and remain prepared to initiate nonviolent action as necessary to defend these magnificent animals. In a great example of BFC synergy: our field patrols also collect scientific data for use by our legal and legislative teams, biologists, and other organizations—adding another layer of value to our field campaigns.

    In the political/legislative arena: We support a variety of efforts to inform local, state, and federal politicians and legislators of the plight of the buffalo—and the importance of wild populations.

    In the courts: Our legal team fights judicial battles to defend the buffalo’s right to roam freely and live according to their natural instincts.

    In the public mind: In addition to providing information for educators, BFC actively promotes the needs of the buffalo through various public forums such as community meetings; information booths in and around Yellowstone; select conventions, expositions, and festivals; our annual roadshow; and more.

    Our Vision:
    We envision a world in which buffalo and all other native wildlife are allowed to exist for their own sake, are given priority on public lands, and herds are allowed to maintain self-regulating, sustainable populations.


    • I remember that, Starry – the question arises: Why do we(well, not us) allow cattle in our national parks AND in wildlife refuges??? Questions we all have been asking for years!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. How do WE stop yet another TRAVESTY being done to OUR COUNTRY’S PROTECTED MAJESTIC BUFFALOS???? This is an outrage!!! THEY ARE Sooo vile their EVIL actions& bogus reasoning is illogical it’s absurd what they ARE doing to OUR WILDLIFE & Our wilderness!!! Who are these CRUEL BULLIES? AREN’T the BUFFALO PROTECTED by LAW??? Making this “removal/SLAUGHTER” ILLEGAL!! SOMEBODY PLEZ STEP FORWARD & SPEAK UP FOR THESE TREASURES!!!! Not ACCEPTABLE PERIOD!!!!! Please for Gods sake HELP THEM& STOP THIS NOW!!!! AMERICA BEGS YOU!!!


  7. Man Blocks Road to Yellowstone Bison Trap 2014
    Twenty-one year old Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer Comfrey Jacobs sacrificed his freedom to free wild buffalo. On March 6, 2014, Comfrey took individual and direct action and blocked access to Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap, in an attempt to prevent more wild buffalo from being shipped to slaughter. This is BFC’s exclusive footage and interview with this brave man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Comfrey is a HERO TO 🇺🇸WILDLIFE!!! No one sacrifices to make a point, SO heart felt for these mighty beautiful Buffalos& Bisons!! They live among eachother peacefully UNTIL the BLM comes in (Bullying Lying Manipulators)& once again they profit off of animals LIVES & freedoms take them forcefully traumatizing them separating MAMAS& THEIR BABIES😥💔FOR NOT 🚩ONE HONEST & LOGICAL REASON🚩🚩🚩STOP BUYING INTO THEIR EVIL CORRUPT BS!!!! They WIL SUFFER THE LONGER WE DON’T SAY SOMETHING TO STOP ANOTHER HORRIFIC 🇺🇸TRAVESTY from continuing!!PLEZ they KILL U.S. when they STEAL & SLAUGHTER AMERICAN TREASURES& SYBOLIC CREATURES!!! MY NATIVE HEART CRIES FOR JUSTICE &2 SAVE ALL OUR BEAUTIFUL MAJESTIC MUSTANGS& OUR MYSTERIOUS MIGHTY BUFFALOS💔😥PLEZ HELP STOP THIS WE BEG YOU!!!!!


  8. From PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
    For Immediate Release: Jan 18, 2017
    PEER Suit Blocking Transfer Bolstered by Reversal and Tacit Admission of Fault
    Posted on Jan 18, 2017

    In the closing hours of the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced it will finally begin environmental review on the future of the National Bison Range but signaled that its “preferred” alternative is to hand this refuge over to a local tribe. This latest stratagem attempts to deflect a pending Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) federal lawsuit but may legally backfire even if it is not scrapped by the incoming Trump administration.

    The PEER suit charges FWS with forgoing statutorily required environmental review prior to proposing legislation to transfer the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CKST) and never completing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the refuge as required by law since 1997. In a Federal Register notice posted today, the FWS announces that –
    • It will at last begin scoping a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Bison Range and preparing an Environmental Impact Statement for that plan;
    • Congressional legislation to transfer the Bison Range to the CSKT is its “preferred management option.” The notice also invites the CSKT to co-write this environmental evaluation; and
    • It will not even begin planning for Pablo, Ninepipe, the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuges and the Northwest Montana Lake County Wetland Management District (all of which are within the Bison Range complex) until some unspecified “later date.”
    This current move contradicts the agency’s court pleadings this fall which “deny that they have announced a legislative proposal to transfer the National Bison Range out of the National Wildlife Refuge System.” At the same time, it also appears to implicitly concede the merits of the PEER suit.
    “Filing a notice saying that the Service finally intends to follow the law does not defeat a lawsuit to force it to comply with the law by a judicially enforceable date,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, whose earlier lawsuit invalidated a plan for the CSKT to co-manage the refuge. “The haste to squeeze this into the Federal Register just before the Trump inauguration suggests a desperate Hail Mary pass.”
    Proposing to formulate a long-term refuge plan whose thrust is to end it continuing as a refuge controverts the entire purpose of the exercise. Further, the transfer requires legislation which is wholly outside the FWS’ control and certainly not subject to its preferences. Nor can the Service guarantee that the CSKT will preserve the bison herd, allow public visitation or operate Bison Range as a refuge once it is handed over — since the notice indicates it will be operated solely “for the benefit of the CSKT.”
    “This is like proposing a lesson plan for a class you intend to skip while trying to claim the credit hours,” added Dinerstein. “This move strengthens our hand to immediately ask the court for an order fully restoring the National Bison Range to its status as the Crown Jewel of the Wildlife Refuge System.”


  9. It is a shame that we are slaughtering our heritage! Wild horses, burrows, bison, what’s next! Shame on BLM, big ranching and the abuse of public lands for profit!


  10. What the hell everything wild horses burrows and bision. The govt wants to kill leave them alone really the animals dont bother no one there is more than enough land. Learn to share. To you all that do the killing you are a bunch of COWARDS. Get a real job


  11. The Bison were here first, and should have been declared a National icon. Slaughtering this magnificent animal is shameful, heartless, and should be declared illegal. Whoever thought up this heartless plan is also dening wildlife, like wolves, coyotes, magpies, etc. of natural food source. Next, they’re be marked for slaughter, because of lack of their vital food sources.


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