Montana goes back on its word, to send bison to slaughter June 11

-Important update. See the June 12 story on bison-

I don’t like to step on the story that federal Judge Winmill just overturned Bush’s bastardized BLM rules because it is the more important story, but folks will probably be more likely to read that Montana has doublecrossed folks and captured the bison and sent the bison bulls, which can’t transmit brucellosis, to slaughter.

Here is the Buffalo Field Campaign’s news release, but remember this is not really about a disease or even about who gets the grass, the purpose is to show folks who are not in the grazing industry who is boss. Idaho lost its “brucellosis free status” due to infection from Wyoming elk, and in Idaho brucellosis is a total non-issue in media and among the public.


Agencies Deceive Public, Go Back on their Word Not to Slaughter

For Immediate Release, June 8, 2007
Exclusive Video Footage and Photos Available Upon Request
Contact: BFC, Stephany Seay 406-646-0070

WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA – Going back on their word not to slaughter wild bison, state and federal agencies to do just that. Today they have hazed about 50 wild bison off of cattle-free National Forest land and captured them in a bison trap constructed near the West Yellowstone Airport.

According to livestock officials, bulls will be transported to slaughter facilities on Monday. Yearlings may be transported to a state-federal quarantine facility as part of a scientific experiment. Calves and mothers will be transported over 150 miles to the Stephens Creek bison trap located within Yellowstone’s northern boundary and released after a few days.

“None of these buffalo are a brucellosis-transmission risk,” said BFC campaign coordinator Mike Mease. “There are no cattle in this region right now, and there never are any on the public lands where the buffalo are migrating.”

Last week, public pressure forced Montana and Yellowstone to call off the slaughter of 300 wild buffalo that remained in Montana. Following the no-slaughter decision, agencies stated they would capture and transport to Yellowstone’s northern boundary any buffalo found in Montana this week.

However, a DOL press release and confirmation by a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks official today stated the agencies intend to slaughter bull buffalo caught in today’s operations.

DOL officials falsely claim the Stephens Creek bison trap “can’t handle bull bison.” As recently as last year scores of bull bison have been captured, processed and sent to slaughter from this very facility. In addition, both the Duck Creek and West Yellowstone Airport bison traps are able to handle bull bison as well. On May 23 the DOL captured two bull bison in the Duck Creek trap, located on private property. The bulls were sent to slaughter without being tested for exposure to brucellosis. Bull bison pose no risk of transmitted brucellosis to cattle. Brucellosis is the alleged reason for the government’s harsh treatment of wild bison.

“Montana said they would not slaughter any buffalo, and here they intend slaughter bulls,” said Mease. “The DOL is acting out of spite and this management plan is just a scheme to control public lands for livestock interests.”

Despite hazing attempts wild buffalo continue to follow their instincts, migrating into Montana where they find suitable habitat. American buffalo are native to all of Montana yet remain ecologically extinct.

“Wild buffalo are not ‘park’ animals and they continue to demonstrate this perfectly,” said BFC spokeswoman Stephany Seay. “They are a migratory species and cannot be expected to stay on one side of some meaningless, man-made border like an obedient dog. The real solution to this management scheme is year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana.”

The purported reason for the heavy-handed management of wild buffalo is the cattle industry’s fear of a brucellosis transmission from wild bison to cattle. No such transmission has ever occurred even where wild bison and cattle coexist. Pregnant buffalo pose only a theoretical risk of transmitting brucellosis to cattle, yet calving season has ended so there is no risk at this point. Bulls, yearlings, and non-pregnant females pose no risk of transmitting the livestock-disease. There are currently no cattle in the West Yellowstone area.

Ironically, state and federal officials intend to remove the wild buffalo from public lands where there are never any cattle and transport them to Yellowstone’s northern boundary, where Church Universal & Triumphant cattle graze just a few miles away.

“Transporting low-risk bison from a cattle-free area to a place where cattle are close by makes absolutely no sense if this is really about brucellosis,” said BFC’s Policy Director Dan Brister. “This move, the slaughter of bulls and other low-risk bison proves time and again that the real issue here is control of public lands; it’s about the grass and who gets to eat it.”

Recently, a cattle herd in Bridger, Montana – far to the north and east of any wild buffalo – was found to be infected with brucellosis. Wild bison were not responsible and it is likely that cattle were the source of infection.

“The livestock industry is demonstrating hysteria,” said Mease. “They cry ‘wolf’ about brucellosis being such a huge threat, kill the buffalo that have never transmitted the disease, and refuse to begin any cattle-based risk management efforts, such as supporting Governor Schweitzer’s idea of a buffer zone around Yellowstone. And they are spending federal tax dollars to do this dirty work.”

Brucellosis is a European livestock disease that came to North America with the introduction of domestic cattle. Wildlife was originally infected with brucellosis and other livestock diseases by cattle. There has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis back to cattle.

“Wild bison need access to year-round habitat in Montana, and the cattle industry needs to ensure that their livestock are not infecting native wildlife with cattle-borne diseases,” said Stephany Seay of Buffalo Field Campaign. “It’s time for the cattle industry to take some responsibility for the harm it’s caused.”

American Bison once spanned the continent, numbering between 30 and 50 million. The Yellowstone bison are genetically unique and are America’s only continuously wild herd, numbering fewer than 3,600 animals, .01 percent of the bison’s former population.

1,914 bison have been killed since 2000 under the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Last winter Federal and State agencies killed or authorized the killing of more than 1,010 bison. So far this year four bison were captured and sent to slaughter by Montana Department of Livestock agents and hunters have killed 58.

Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) is the only group working in the field, every day, to stop the slaughter of the wild Yellowstone buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo and their native habitat and advocate for their lasting protection. BFC has proposed real alternatives to the current mismanagement of Yellowstone bison that can be viewed at For more information, video clips and photos visit:

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  1. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Is there no way to get national attention to this?

    Must we resort to litigation to get justice everywhere; only to have loudmouths claim “environmentalists” are “sue-happy?”

  2. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    National attention seems to be the “big mystery”. I have tried locally, arguing with one and debating with another at the newspaper. “Well if it doesn’t come through on the national wire, we don’t print anything” , was the response. And, “We get calls all the time for various causes and we just can’t print them.” “We just don’t print news about the national parks.”
    The DOL said they didn’t want to truck those bison through the park because it was tourist season, when it was really that they had intended to kill them from the very beginning!
    I found an article on line in the New York Times this weekend that stated that the DOL’s plan is to completely eradicate the threat of disease being passed to cattle by 2010. Does that mean they intend on eliminating all the bison in the park by then?? I wonder if the Department of Liars has changed their strategy, by targeting mature bulls.
    I am at a complete loss of what to do…. I may try to get the student newspaper at Marshall University in Huntington, WV, where i lived and went to college before moving to the northwest to try to take up the cause. The alumi association may be the place to start since school is out for the summer. Their mascot is a bison, named Marco the Buffalo. At this point I think anything is worth a try.
    The Bush administration is the first to ever make our intelligent citizens feel absolutely helpless……

  3. kt Avatar

    What really disgusts me about this is that Montana has a DEMOCRATIC Governor, and this Power Trip slaughter is happening. It must be the Schweitzer “cowboy” persona that can’t say NO to death, destruction and ruination of wild things.

  4. mikarooni Avatar

    Don’t get me wrong. I favor letting this strain of bison reclaim more of its territory and habitat and expand its population in the interests of preserving its relatively unique and uncontaminated genetic bandwidth. I am not in favor of wasting these particular genetics through arbitrary slaughter. At the same time, I truly do believe that those of us who want to preserve these pure genetics need to be very well versed in the crucial factors of the biology, not let ourselves be easily accused of tangential emotionalism, and be very savvy about how we argue our position.

    With all of that said, the truth is that, although every bison of either gender may technically be carrying a unique genetic pattern that we might regret losing, the odds are that few to none of these bulls would contribute to the gene pool in any significant fashion. Bison, like cattle, practice a brutal form of polygamy in which only a few bulls do almost all of the mating and the rest of the bulls remain bachelors, only providing scenery while they eat grass that the obstinacy (bison herd) could truly better use feeding cows and calves.

    In addition, the only genetic material carried only by the bulls is the Y chromosome and it is not particularly at risk because it is a very simple chromosome with little variability within the species and with little chance that any specific slaughtered bull will be carrying anything unique in that chromosome. Although I do not believe that the very low numbers quoted by some geneticists for ensuring long-term genetic viability in this population are reliable, the fact remains that the rest of each bull’s genetic material, all the material beyond the Y, is very likely replicated in the cows and even the Y is almost certainly replicated in some of those calves.

    I do not doubt that some within the DOL and the catttle industry really would like to eradicate these bison; however, any truly astute cattleman (yes, they exist although rare) would tell you that culling bachelor bulls, unless you cull every single one of them, is no way to limit herd size. In fact, the fastest way to increase your herd, as a rancher, is to continuously sell/cull/eat all but one of your bulls each year and leave the grass to the cows and calves. There is a legendary story, but completely true, about how one rancher ran one big longhorn bull and over one hundred open (not pregnant and without calves) longhorn cows into nearly 50 sections of the roughest desert canyonlands in Arizona and, for three years straight, got calves from every single cow. That one bull, admittedly one of the best of his breed, went down one canyon after another, from one waterhole to the next, and got to them all and bison bulls are just as tough. A single good bull will kill himself trying to finish his job as long as the scent in the wind tells him he still has work to do. The point is that just culling bachelor bulls will really not slow herd reproduction, unless again you cull every single one of them. I don’t like it; there are tribal herds that could benefit from the genetics carried by those slaughtered bulls; but, the Yellowstone population will not take any long-term hit from this kind of culling.

    With regard to the DOL’s contention that trucking those bulls would be too difficult, I believe that this nothing but a convenient excuse; but, it truly is a viable excuse. Last week, I tried to truck one young longhorn bull mixed with a whole group of older and larger steers, thinking that the steers wouldn’t challenge him and he’d be nice. The steers weren’t hurt badly and still sold for a reasonable price; but, it wasn’t a good idea. It would have been worse if I had put bulls together; I would have had dead bulls. Still, once that young bull got bored, he beat up every one of those steers, just for exercise, and bison bulls are worse. It’s just the truth. Yes, DOL could have and should have trailed (hazed in less benign terminology) those bulls back into the park; but, they couldn’t have reliably/peacefully trucked them without a separate compartment for every bull.

  5. Buffaloed Avatar

    This is from a press release on Saturday:

    National Park Service
    U.S. Department of the Interior

    Yellowstone National Park
    P.O. Box 168
    Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

    June 9, 2007 07-29
    Tim Reid (307) 344-2170

    Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek Facility Receives Bison

    Yellowstone National Park received 52 bison at the Interagency bison
    capture facility at Stephens Creek late Friday evening. The bison were
    captured by the Montana Department of Livestock outside the park’s
    western boundary, and shipped to the facility near Gardiner. The bison
    will be held, fed, and watered for a short period and then released to
    return to the park.

    Among the bison captured and shipped were 24 adult cows, 16 juvenile
    bulls under two years old, and 12 calves. Consistent with operations of
    the Stephens Creek facility and actions called for under the Interagency
    Bison Management Plan, juvenile bulls may be held at the capture
    facility when they are not considered to be a significant threat to
    other animals or to personnel managing the operation.

    Additionally, 300 bison were hazed from the west boundary to the
    interior of the park on Friday. As of 8:30 a.m., Saturday morning, many
    of the bison had turned back and were again moving toward the west
    boundary. Hazing operations are likely through the weekend. –


  6. Vicki Avatar

    The simple fact is, they shouldn’t have been captured to begin with. None of this is a suprise. A democratic governor is still a politician. BFC has documented the horrific happenings by DOL for years. If anything changed, THAT would suprise me.

  7. kim Avatar

    like i said in a previous post, the govner folded like cheap paper sack,, so much for democrats adn enviromentalism,, demo or republ,, they like there jobs and there popularitiy, so they go to the people who pay there bills,,

  8. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Thank you mikarooni for the info about animal husbandry. I see that I have a bit more studying to do. And also for emphasizing the importance of being well versed and savvy in the presentation. It wish more people understood that.

    When it was reported that trucks with horse trailers were seen backing into the corral….well, I tried to hold on to false hope for a few moments.

    So, if this issue does not get resolved soon, and the same herd always goes for winter forage year after year in the same location, I wonder how long it will be before a genetic family is lost? If that is even possible? I am guessing that because of the terrain the bison go back to the same general area. One October I observed, a huge bull bison walking south along the road from fishing bridge. I saw him at various locations for 3 days. {He had a very distinct marking.} I went out the south entrance to head home and stopped at the info display just out of the park. Off to the west there was a bison. Through my binoculars he had that marking. I doubt he stopped to rest.

    Also, it is very interesting what you said regarding the tribal herds. If someone tested the genetic material of those herds, and determined the percent of bovine genes to bison genes, then selected bison bulls from different areas of the yellowstone region, sent one to each of the tribal herds, approximately how many breeding seasons would it take to eliminate the bovine genes?? And would the introduced bull expedite those genes? { provided the existing bull doesn’t kill the “intruder”} Those bull bison can hit like a freight train.

    There is a photographer that “shoots” for National Geographic. His photos along with an article brought worldwide attention to a remote rainforest…. somewhere in South America that was going to be completely destroyed. The flora and fauna found there only exist in that forest. That article with his photos saved the area. {unfortunately I cannot remember the names} The big question is, would they have the nerve to take on this situation? I think a lot of people find it easier to tackle foreign issues. I am holding onto hope that with a new administration in DC, we just might see some progress. After reading the book “Crimes Against Nature”, I thought my brain would spontaneously combust.
    And with that said I will keep you posted.

  9. Howard Avatar

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that bison are actually classified as “livestock”, which is why the Montana DOL has authority to deal with them. If true, how on earth did bison get classified as “livestock”? I of course realize that this was done in the interests of the cattle industry, but when did this designation occur? Has it ever been challenged? It’s amazing to me that the last continuous “free roaming” bison herd are only permitted to roam free within the artificial boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.
    Also, a question about bison genetics. How many wild bison herds (as opposed to fenced) exist in the US? How many genetically pure bison exist? I was surprised to learn that most of the “bison” in this country are bison-cattle hybrids. Is the American bison still ‘Bison bison’ or has it been placed into the genus ‘Bos’?

  10. mikarooni Avatar

    Howard, classifying bison as livestock, instead of wildlife, was prompted, at least in part, by the benevalent desire to be better able to raise them and increase their numbers in places other than Yellowstone and, although it has certainly been a problem in Montana with regard to handing them over to the DOL, it has helped raise the overall numbers of the species across the country. In most places, in most states, the herds would not exist without livestock designation.

    Next, every bison herd in the country is technically fenced, some are fenced into smaller areas and some into larger areas; but, they’re all fenced. I truly do love the animals; but, bull bison can go up to a ton and a half and an unfenced migration of those across the national interstate system would be a problem. In addition, they need/like to use whatever is the closest available structure to rub off their winter coats every spring; many trees can’t take it; and most standard frame constructed houses would be ruined pretty quick. There truly are logistical problems with the species, although those problems can be mitigated and should not block a gradual and planned extension of their current numbers and range.

    Finally, bison still have their own genus, although they are closely related to bovines. There are, last time I saw figures, about 400,000 of them in the country and a bit more than 90% have trace amounts of hybridization, all of which is about the same for longhorns, about 400,000 total and a bit more than 90% have trace levels of hybridization also. Given the relative rarity and virtues of both, I don’t particularly hold the hybridization against any of them; but, the pure genetics are worth preserving, expanding, and using to breed back to reduce hybridization to the extent possible. This is the best use for any extra bull calves coming out of Yellowstone; you can get bison burger elsewhere.

  11. Howard Avatar

    Thanks for the information mikarooni. I was not aware that livestock designation was originally a conservation strategy, albeit one that backfired in the current Montana situation.
    Concerning fenced bison… are the bison herds in places like Wind Cave National Park fenced in enclosed paddocks, or are they “fenced” meaning that their movements (and population) are restricted to the Park? I did know that there were no freely migrating bison outside of national park areas, but I did think that a few herds were not technically in enclosures. Is that correct?
    Thanks again for the info. I always enjoy your posts, and I think your sound knowledge of livestock management and biology is extremely valuable in a forum such as this.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The bison herd in the Henry Mountains of Utah, derived from Yellowstone Park, is as far as I know, completely unfenced.

  13. mikarooni Avatar

    I didn’t think that there was any place where there wasn’t a fence in the distance somewhere. If they’re not mechanically fenced, then there must be some sort of terrain boundary or water feature that they do not yet have sufficient urge to cross and the habitat must be good enough for their numbers to keep them around. You can keep them in one place if ample feed and water are available there and you rigorously cull their numbers to keep them artificially matched to a small area; but, I don’t believe you’ll have much luck keeping them confined without some sort of boundary if you let nature take its course and let their numbers and especially the number of mature bulls expand beyond what the small area will hold, which brings us full circle to the Yellowstone issue. My experience has always been, with both bison and longhorns, that, once their numbers grow and mature bulls start running off rivals, some of them will try to move (disperse) and challenge what were previously boundaries, including fences, which is what they are trying to do on Horse Butte. They just like to move toward the smell of fresh grass or water or unclaimed cows (females) or, in the case of bulls being chased off, away from the fight.

    Migration is also a loose term. You could say that bison are migrating within Yellowstone because the various little quasi-herds (maybe dozens to hundreds of head at most in this case) are moving from the lower elevations in the winter to the higher elevations in the summer (Hayden Valley to Mary Mountain for example) to get the grasses at their best protein level; but, this movement doesn’t really demonstrate what a genuine bison migration would be like. One of the texts that I remember described three overlapping massive assemblies of herds (three continental populations each numbering tens of millions of head in hundreds of herds) that occupied pre-columbian America. One such “mega-herd” would migrate from the boreal forest down to the present Dakotas, another would swing from the Dakotas into northern Texas, and the third rotated from Kansas into Mexico. If this somewhat dated concept were true, think of those as real migrations of hundreds of annual miles under unfettered, uncontrolled, unmanaged circumstances. Cape buffalo still travel similarly great distances in parts of Africa today. So, I tend to think of today’s bison herds, including the Yellowstone bison, as living under very constrained and artificial conditions. Without the cropping of the herd by DOL and the Montana hunt, the Yellowstone herd would reproduce (they like to do that), expand, and, although some groups would stay within the park, population pressure would eventually (actually pretty quickly) push other groups and many bachelor bulls to disperse down the river valleys (happening now on the Madison and Yellowstone), encourage them to explore new foraging and calving sites out toward the plains again, and perhaps force us to consider ways to accommodate them instead of our petunias and zooming sports cars, neither of which are bison resistant in their current form. I had a bull get pushed out by a rival. This bull stayed to himself, pushed into a small and “less desirable” part of the ranch, for a while until hunters cut my fence and he discovered that he could go beyond the fence (a big intellectual concept for a bovine) through the hole. Once he got past that notion, he was gone, nearly 50 miles in less than 48 hours. Even after I brought him back and set him up with his own little herd in a better part of the ranch, no fence would hold him again (he just jumped them after that). He had relearned the concept of migration and he had to become ultra-lean burger.

  14. Eric Avatar

    But you still think the quasi-herd in West Yellowstone should be what– given some expansion graze on public lands, at least since the brucellosis threat is still only a contingency according to some? Or do you think there is some cogent logic to culling the herd in case they overpopulate?

  15. mikarooni Avatar

    When a species that numbered 60 million only 150 years ago numbers only about 400,000 today and the pure genetic reservoir for the species is only perhaps 40,000 out of that 400,000, then it is hard to argue, with a straight face or any semblance of maturity or honor, that more culling is the answer. Under these circumstances, overpopulation of this species is a somewhat meaningless concept. So, yes, I certainly do believe that the Yellowstone herd should be given more room and that even the younger bulls should be transplanted, wherever possible, into other herds where their pure genetics can be reintroduced to minimize the level of hybridization. “Culling” in the form of slaughter should be reserved for those older bulls that can’t be reliably transplanted to advantage. I am not against some limited hunting for bachelor bulls, but not on a scale that constitutes a stealth cull.

    What I also believe, however, is that the expansion of the range needs to be addressed in a planned fashion and that infrastructure, in the form of sturdier buck and rail fencing, needs to be installed to funnel this expansion into areas where safety can be better managed and damage minimized. I want to see the species, especially those small populations carrying remnant pure genetics (Yellowstone), allowed to expand both as a desirable wildlife species and to minimize any even remote risk that genetic bottlemecking couls impact its future. Again, I do not consider the current numbers projected as adequate to prevent genetic deterioration over time to be reliable at all. I have seen to much skewing of such studies to trust them; but, that’s another discussion that would take much longer than most people have patience for.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan