Winter conflicts with bison could increase

Winter conflicts with bison could increase. By Corey Hatch. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

I don’t like this headline. There is a conflict only because the government chooses to make one. There is plenty of unused winter habitat for the bison outside the Park. It is that they are just not allowed to use it, even private property habitat with willing landowners!

At least the story doesn’t use the old canard of brucellosis to explain the brutal policy.






  1. SmokyMtMan Avatar

    Ralph says: “There is plenty of unused winter habitat for the bison outside the Park. It is that they are just not allowed to use it, even private property habitat with willing landowners!”

    That is isn’t the point, really. The truth is, if Bison were allowed to fill up the areas just outside the Park where landowners or Federal managers let them, eventually the bison population will simply move to the edges of that habitat. Then the bison will push outside those areas as well, as their populations expand.

    The same problems will occur, simply somewhere else. The bison will attempt to move beyond those artificial boundaries, and will have to be controlled/harassed in a different location than the present one.

    Allowing bison a little more habitat here or there will solve nothing. Bison will breed, populations will grow, and the bison will migrate onward attempting to increase their range.

    In other words, bison will have to be limited somewhere, so what is the solution? Allow bison to expand their range to Denver? Where should the cut-off line be?

    Montana has declared the Park’s border to be the cut-off line. Where do enviros want it to be?

    It has to be somewhere, unless the bison’s numbers are kept at numbers below carrying capacity in the area in which they reside.

    And that has to be done artificially, with breeding controls and/or hunting/capture killing. Which isn’t feasible, either.

    The western state governments are never going to allow bison to be free-ranging wildlife, such as elk or deer. That is reality.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Good question. That’s what the bison hunt is for, and why I supported it — population control that builds a constituency for free-ranging bison.

    Instead we got a hunt only if the bison leave the Park. And while the hunt is on it can be stopped so DOL can come and do some “real killing” if a lot of bison come out. Then the DOL can refresh their coffers by selling the “brucellosis-tainted” meat to unwary consumers.

    This kind of hunt does not build a constituency for bison

    The West Boundary of Yellowstone is one long straight line. I can post a photo if you don’t know that. It cuts straight the middle of the Madison Valley. Can you keep any animal behind an invisible line?

    What works is topographic barriers.

    There are natural topographic barriers outside the Park — Yankee Jim Canyon on the north, the Quake Lake area on the west, Targhee Pass on the southwest. These are much easier to monitor than miles of invisible boundary.

    The Western State governments can be changed, and Utah already does have free ranging bison and a tough hunt for them in the Henry’s.

  3. SmokyMtMan Avatar


    Thanks for the response and info. I would love to see the bison as a free-ranging wild animal in the way elk and deer currently are. I am not optimistic in regard to Montana’s flexibility on this issue, as they seem single-mindedly determined to maintain their current, wasteful, and inane policy.

    Unfortunately, the public has not been stirred by this issue. Without a strong public groundswell of support, the politicians will not budge from their dug-in positions. I don’t see that attitude changing in the future. I hope I am mistaken.

    I agree with you about the artificial boundaries we set for bison. It is ridiculous to think bison will ignore their instincts to wander and locate winter forage outside the Park once the population increases to to the Park’s carrying capacity. The line through Madison Valley you describe is pure folly that inevitably led to the current morass we find ourselves in.

    As you say, the best scenario is for the establishment of a “real” hunt that will create a constituency for the bison. However, it seems that creating a hunt for bison requires the politicians allowing bison to roam freely, first to build the population of bison and second to get hunters behind the effort.

    How is that accomplished in the current political atmosphere in Montana? I cannot say what similarities, or differences, exist between Utah and Montana. I am happily surprised to learn that Utah, a state I have known to be unfriendly to environmental issues, has a bison hunt.

    Let’s hope a rational solution presents itself soon for the bison.

  4. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    I just want to point out that “carrying capacity” is not necessarily why the bison leave the park. The weather, amount of snow and duration of cold temps lasting into the calving season are also factors of the migration. Pregnant females need to preserve energy and fat stores, even though they are physically able to plow thru deep snow. They also will wait to return to the usual areas inside the park until there is enough grass for the group. Bison being social creatures much like elephants, the females stay especially in tight/dense groups during the spring. Even just spending a day in the spring in Madison Valley one can readily see this behavior in action. Just as an interesting side note; the females out in Lamar are much more “vocal” than those over in Madison. The times i have observed them in the spring the Lamar groups communicate with each other quite frequently with breaks of relative silence. If they get really curious about something they get “vocal” and a small group like 10 or 12 of the females will move towards the curiosity and stand tightly together. After exchanging more sounds like they are having a discussion, one of the gals will slowly approach the object while the rest quietly wait. The one that drew the short straw walks slowly, grabbing a tuft of grass here and there before stopping near the object and after a few discerning moments decides to give the “okay” and they all wander back to their previous location.
    Anyway, it is so rediculous that bison are not allowed to freely roam like the elk and deer.
    Up until recently i have not felt optomistic either. Maybe i am just wanting to be really hopeful, but my “gut feeling” is that the situation will be changing in the next few months. That which does not bend will break eventually. I hope my gut is right and i am not fooling myself into wishful thinking.

  5. JB Avatar

    Ralph, did I hear you right? Did you just advocate for hunting? Better keep a link to this post available for the next time the SFW folk start stumping about how everyone here is anti-hunting. 😉

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I’ve been advocating a bison hunt for quite a few years now. I’m not an anti-hunting person at all. My insistence has always been that wildlife are valuable for many reasons in addition to the hunting of some species. In addition, hunts, other than those to secure food, should be adventures, and not without risk.

    Finally wildlife ought not to be turned into livestock. Shooting livestock, “Dick Cheney’s kind of hunting” at clubs where pen raised animals are released in front of the “hunters” is just an expensive kind of slaughterhouse.

  7. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    I think it is realistic that one of the goals of ending the control of the MDOL, promoting free-ranging bison, and allowing the herds numbers to increase. The MDOL recieves upwards of 3 million dollars annually to slaughter/haze bison back into the park. The only persons really benefitting are the sicko’s who get to enjoy harassing, and what amounts to torturing, the bison, plus the free-for-all of tearing thru the community creating disturbances and disregarding any type of laws for public conduct.
    The same money could be used to create a workable plan to increase their range and sustain and allow the population to grow to the point of having a regular hunting season. And employ the appropriate personel to oversee and manage in the field. In YNP starting 2006 the park service was ordered by the bush admin to “let go” 20 rangers a year for three years. This year they will be operating with 60 less rangers. Which is why we will continue to see an increase in stupid, careless behavior by visitors. The bush admin was also trying to replace Interpretive Rangers with volunteers from the private sector. I do not have any new info about that.
    I am not sure if this figure is up to date; it most likely is more than the original figure 3.? billion dollars to improve Sylvan Pass. The reason for the widening and improvements to the eastern entrance pass from Cody was also promoted and pushed forward by bushies to cater to and accomodate the very small percentage of folks {possibly their friends???}, who want to drive their humongous “motor-mansions” into the park thru that particular route. I guess it was too much trouble to drive around to an entrance that would accomodate an aircraft carrier. Or maybe they did not want to spend money on extra fuel. Isn’t it wonderful??? Our tax dollars at work.
    Once the battle is over with our bison, maybe other related livestock issues will not be so difficult. That could be what livestock agencies are concerned about, facing accountability. Which is another reason why more people should be demanding an end to the bison slaughter.
    Rally the troops to save the West! Protect the legacy of the land for the future.


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