Where the bison could roam

JB suggested I make a map based on Google Earth showing the topographic boundaries that would be natural choke points to keep free ranging outside-Yellowstone-Park bison confined so that they don’t keep continually expanding their range.

Within this area, outside the Park, there would be a bison hunt to keep the population approximately stable. Additional bison would be able to leave the Park into these areas to escape harsh winter conditions (such as frozen ground after rain which is more common with warming climate) and to seek early spring greenery.

Here is the map






  1. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Thank you for taking the time to make the map. That is a real eye opener! I have long been aware of the wildlife corridor north of the park and around Hebgen Lake, but those boundaries create an extensive area for bison to roam around in. I am astonished.
    After checking out the footloose site, i thought it would be advantageous for a similar group to start a campaign for some free-roamimg, dare i say “footloose bison”. I would think that with carefull management{by the proper agency, not the MDOL} to acheive stable numbers with varied biological diversity, would promote a new interest to the dwinding tradition of hunting. And to the powers that be, the almost certain promise of revenue from the hunt, should be enough to push this idea forward. It’s money after all, right? Just about anything associated with dollar signs is “permitted”. If this season the planned bison slaughter of 1,700 could be stopped even with some sort of lawsuit, the better, because the sooner the MDOL gets out of it, the sooner bison numbers can establish theirselves to huntable numbers. Maybe even for the first experimental hunt, the ones who participate could maybe be guaranteed their first tag in the first open hunt. With as much money made in the US from hunting it makes sense to direct some for procuring the hunt, thus insuring a increase in future revenue and sustaining hunting traditions. Eventually, a handful of bison could be transported to the vast plains area to add new genes to that small herd. That could also motivate persons to restore the native prairie grasses and return those overused areas to re-establish as much as possible something close to the original ecosystem. Last year in the Smithsonian a story was written about connecting the current land areas that have been restored and connecting with the continuing geography of the land into Canada. I do not remember the name of the group promoting this idea.
    Wow, what a great daydream…. Any thoughts?

  2. Monte Avatar

    Great map. As many of you may have guessed, I lean pretty conservative, but am embarassed at the way the Bison issue has been handled. Let them roam!

  3. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Thanks Monty!! I do not always agree with you, ie, trapping. But just about anyone who supports letting bison roam Is a good guy or gal to me. I know that does not really matter, but wanted to say it anyway!

  4. Buffaloed Avatar

    I think that buffalo should be allowed to recolonize the areas to the west of Hebgen Lake like the upper Madison and more importantly the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge. This would ensure a much more viable herd and there is much public land in these areas.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Are there topographic barriers to keep the bison restricted if they use this territory?

    It would be nice to see them in this country. It looks like the owner of the nearby Sun Ranch, about which there has been so much commentary, may not be adverse to bison.

  6. Buffaloed Avatar

    I don’t think that there are topographical barriers to keep them restricted to this area but is it so bad that they have the ability to roam? I understand the implications of this but I think we really need to start thinking about real meta-populations with bison. It is important that there be populations outside of Yellowstone to ensure that if one population collapses for some reason, harsh winter, disease, etc., that the other could recolonize the area of the other population. This also ensures that each heard could maintain the genetic diversity each needs to remain viable.

    These are very important principals for long term management of populations such as bison. Essentially they are on an island with no genetic interchange with other populations, not that there are many but the other populations could benefit greatly by the interchange. The present management is impacting bison genetics in ways that we don’t fully understand. It’s not just about numbers, it’s about maintaining a viable heard.

  7. JB Avatar

    Thanks Ralph, this is exactly what I had in mind!

    I have to admit that I know next to nothing about the American bison, so please interpret everything hereafter appropriately…

    Okay, I’m confused as to why the bison is not listed as endangered? One would think that by any stretch of the imagination the plains states have to constitute a “significant portion of [the bison’s] range”? When I checked on FWS’s website, it appears the wood bison (a subspecies) is listed as endangered in Canada but not the U.S. Looks like FWS proposed rulemaking in 1970 without any results (I can’t confirm because the document is so old its not available electronically; see 35 FR 6069).

    Anyone know why the bison hasn’t been listed? Better yet, anyone want to start a petition for listing?

  8. JB Avatar

    Follow up:

    Did a bit of looking, and ran across a MS thesis on bison conservation. From the abstract:

    “…now there are over 500,00 bison scattered across North America in remnant and reintroduction herds. At least 95% of the existing bison populations is under commercial production.”


    “Although bison are no longer in imminent danger of extinction, there are threats to the persistence of the bison…[including] habitat loss from agricultureal development and other intensive land use, reduction in genetic diversity, hybridization, domestication through commercial bison production, disease, and inconsistent legislation and policies.”

    One of the author’s recommendations points out a “need to increase the number of viable, free-ranging and minimally-managed plains bison…within the original range of the subspecies.

    Here’s the cite:
    Boyd, D. P. 2003. Conservation of the North American Bison: Status and Recommendations. M.S. Thesis, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I’m sure “Buffaloed” can describe the efforts (unsuccessful) to get the Yellowstone bison on the threatened species list.

  10. JB Avatar

    Thanks Ralph, I would be to hear how FWS is justifying not listing the bison.

    The ESA requires the Secretary to “…determine whether any species is an endangered species or threatened species because of any of the following factors:

    (A) the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
    (C) disease or predation;
    (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
    (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.” 16 USC § 1533 (4)(a).

    There is no question that, at the very least , factors (A), (D) and (E) are present with respect to the bison over a significant portion of its range. Given the precedent set by the 9th circuit: that a species can be considered extinct “if there are major geographical areas in which it is no longer viable but once was,” I would say that this particular battle is worth taking to the courts.

  11. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I spent a month in Yellowstone this fall and I was very concerned about the condition of the range. There were lots of bare spots where there should have been grass and many hillsides and meadows showed obvious over- use by bison.
    The bison need wintering areas outside of the park and if these are not available, then the herd must be reduced to protect Yellowstone’s grasslands.

  12. Buffaloed Avatar

    From: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/media/update0607/082307.html

    The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has recently issued a notice, inviting the public to submit any information concerning the Yellowstone wild buffalo herd, and threats to them and their habitat. Now is the time to make a strong case to the FWS that this special herd and their *historic* native range should be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

    This notice comes in response to a letter submitted by a citizen from Minnesota, Mr. James Horsley, who filed a petition on January 5, 1999, urging the government to protect the Yellowstone herd – the last wild buffalo left in America – under the ESA. Mr. Horsley, if you are reading these words, THANK YOU! Never underestimate the power of an individual!

    With the FWS notice comes both good news and bad news:
    The good news is that FWS recognizes that the wild population of American buffalo currently living in and around Yellowstone National Park meets the criteria of a Distinct Population Segment (DPS). As you know, BFC has been circulating a petition for years to bolster support for protecting the Yellowstone herd – America’s last wild buffalo – as a Distinct Population Segment. Further, FWS also recognizes that Yellowstone National Park is the *only* place in the U.S. where wild bison have continuously existed since prehistoric times.

    The bad news is that FWS has failed to adequately research and address the wild buffalo’s historic range, which covered hundreds of millions, of acres across North America. They didn’t even bother to identify the historic range of the last wild Yellowstone herd. The FWS is only considering the interior of Yellowstone National Park and the Gardiner Basin (north of Yellowstone) to be significant habitat in their native range, and in that context – which is based on grossly insubstantial and incomplete research – they do not feel that the last wild buffalo are at risk of extinction.

    But there’s more good news: we have an opportunity to help FWS change their minds and reconsider their decision. The task before us now is to urge FWS to conduct substantial, thorough research to establish what has been lost and what can be recovered. We must – and we can – clearly demonstrate that the so-called Yellowstone bison population – and its historic native range – is endangered and warrants full protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    The fact is, the so-called Yellowstone buffalo are the last continuously wild American buffalo left in the United States. Once numbering an estimated 25 to 50 million, and present from Florida to Alaska, Canada to Mexico, today wild buffalo are ecologically extinct throughout nearly all their native range, and cut off from all of their historic migration routes. Yellowstone is the last stronghold for the wild American buffalo, who follow their nomadic instincts and are still genetically pure buffalo. This remnant herd represents the last of the nation’s wild buffalo, not simply inhabitants of the Yellowstone region. Yellowstone just happened to be the place where 23 individual buffalo escaped the horrendous 19th century slaughter, and they haven’t migrated out of there because the government and cattle industry will not let them. We are all too familiar with this ongoing part of the buffalo’s story.

    This is a great opportunity for us to set the record straight and help gain strong protection for America’s last wild buffalo! BFC has read through FWS’s findings, and has pulled out some major points that must be addressed. Please see the action item below, read through the talking points, backed up by some of the supporting scientific evidence. Contact information for submitting your comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is below. Please pass this on to everyone you know. This is an opportunity of unbelievable proportions to make a real and lasting difference for America’s last wild buffalo and their native habitat!

  13. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    For those interested in the Boyd thesis mentioned above, it is available at the following URL:


  14. Salle Avatar

    I’ve submitted comment and written, though not successfully, a policy proposal for management of the Yellowstone bison herd before. Maybe I can try a little harder this time. thanks for the heads up, Buffaloed. I’ll send out a comment in the afternoon tomorrow, again.

    My intent, when attempting to obtain a PhD a few years ago, was to map the migratory patterns of the bison of Yellowstone but nobody wanted anything to do with such a “hot potato” on the political front.

    I’ll give it another try.

  15. Salle Avatar

    MAp the migratory patterns of Yellowstone bison, that is.

  16. Ronald J Beavers Jr Avatar
    Ronald J Beavers Jr

    is there a link to make comment to FWS on the Yellowstone bison? how best to impact that decision in benefit to the bison population and sane science-based management policies? given that long term survival is questionable for a small population limited strictly to the NP boundaries, and the biologic necessity to allow migration and growth expansion into the adjoining and contiguous public lands, how can they not justify this change to management policies? reducton of food supply by drought, destruction of food supply by fire, inaccessible food supply due to winter ice, severe weather threat which has historically caused local die-off of both bison and cattle herds, diseases introduced by the cattle industry, all these threaten the survival of the only viable wild bison herd in the US.
    the state wildlife agencies should not be dictating or defying federal management policy for an endangered species. the cattle industry even less so. how have they been allowed to exterminate the public bison herd on national forest lands and BLM lands outside the park? it defies logic and certainly defies the intent of the ESA.
    if 95% of the surviving bison herd is in commercial production, how is that not overexploitation? when a tiny fraction of the historic habitat is available and populated, how is that not proof of a severe diminishment of the species? the false hope of commercial success perpetuating the bison species is dying on the two-pronged genetic survival menaces of domestication and hybridization. the politics of greed and corruption are trumping proper wildlife management, it baffles me.
    we cannot allow it to continue, it is unacceptable!

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    They aren’t taking comments.

    This is established policy people have working on since 1996 to overturn.

    Meanwhile the Montana DOL, the Department of Interior, the Park Service, the Forest Service and the Gallatin County law enforcement are all culpable.


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Ralph Maughan