Number of Yellowstone Park bison killed sets record — 25% of Yellowstone population slaughted

The slaughter is based on what amounts to a lie about brucellosis and cattle, but there are a few cattle north of Gardiner on the land of the Church Universal and Triumphant – locally called CUT.

They stubbonly winter cattle on their land, and I think they have have not received the criticism they deserve.

This slaughter could go on until May.

Story.  Bison slaughter sets record. 25% of Yellowstone population dead with 2 months of killing still ahead. By Mike Stark.






  1. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    On 11/17/97, I spoke with Cheryl Mathews, of YNP – she was a PR officer, I believe, and she told me that the Yellowstone bison slaughter started in 1984, 24 years ago. Over 6,200 bison have been killed since 1984. In your mind, line up over 6,200 bison…

    I think this tragedy must be viewed as a complete failure of the environmental/conservation community to effectively combat the power of private cattle producers in Montana. It also illustrates the complete failure of the environmental/conservation community to effectively influence/lobby our Congressional delegates from each of our respective states, on behalf of America’s bison that live in Yellowstone but occasionally venture into Montana, thereby becoming under control not of Montana Fish Parks and Wildlife, but of the Montana Department of Livestock.

    The letter from National Parks Conservation Association, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wildlife Federation, and the National Wildlife Federation to Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Representative Dennis Rehberg — to seek federal funding that might allow some bison to migrate safely onto adjacent lands outside Yellowstone – is appreciated but seems to come considerably late in the game; six years late, actually, because “Step 2” of the plan was to happen by 2002. The parties of the Interagency Bison Management Plan have not been held to the terms of the plan, it seems to me.

    I’d join arms with others to surround and block the capture facility, or the road that leads to it.

    Do you think the bastards would drive through a human shield?

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  2. AJ Avatar

    There has to be a way…there just has to be… to get this tragedy in the national media. To get this stopped.

  3. April Clauson Avatar
    April Clauson

    I’d join arms with others to surround and block the capture facility, or the road that leads to it.

    Do you think the bastards would drive through a human shield?


    I have suggested this several times (see last weeks Buffalo post I did) it seems folks feel with the new terror laws, etc, that if you “protest 60’s style” you will be thrown in jail for more than a day or 2, and if you write or say the wrong things, again they are afraid of arrest. I say they are not going to arrest 500-1000 folks protesting a cause such as this, and it would get national attention. Seems that now in these time’s folks out west feel they can not voice their opinion with out fear from local and federal government. This is a shame, and that is why they should hit the streets, loud and strong!!!!!

  4. April Clauson Avatar
    April Clauson

    I’d join arms with others to surround and block the capture facility, or the road that leads to it.

    Do you think the bastards would drive through a human shield?


    I have suggested this several times (see last weeks Buffalo post I did) it seems folks feel with the new terror laws, etc, that if you “protest 60’s style” you will be thrown in jail for more than a day or 2, and if you write or say the wrong things, again they are afraid of arrest. I say they are not going to arrest 500-1000 folks protesting a cause such as this, and it would get national attention. Seems that now in these time’s folks out west feel they can not voice their opinion with out fear from local and federal government. This is a shame, and that is why they should hit the streets, loud and strong!!!!!

  5. kim kaiser Avatar

    i have now sent 3 letters to the NYT,, you would think with there liberal reporting standards and views, they may raise an eyebrow,, just hoping to get the liberal east a view..

  6. Jon Way Avatar

    When I read Marion’s posts every so often on the Billings Gazette, I wonder if that is George Bush’s alias. Their motto: Do and say everything backwards for a minority of people – screw the rest of you.
    Of course bison will increase in number and expand to other areas. That is the whole point of our efforts to protect bison and make them a willdife species. Remember, most of this area is public land that even us easterns pay for.

  7. Bison Buddy Avatar
    Bison Buddy

    Mack, AJ, April, Kim – I’m with you all. I’m sickened and greatly saddened by the bison slaughter. I’ve written letters and e-mailed, pleading for some kind of solution to this travesty. I’m from Illinois and don’t have the resources to get out there right now, but I welcome the idea of some kind of protest. The buffalo have given so much to us. We owe them.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It’s hard to figure how this will work as long as Bush is in power, but this is his last winter. It certainly doesn’t help that Montana’s senators are weak-kneed Democrats, but they might improve. Montana’s lone U.S. representative, is Republican Denny Rehberg, a quantum leap worse.

    Montana’s state legislature is divided too. There needs to be a Democrat majority. They only need to pick up one seat, and they will with everything being on the decline in the United States and Montana.

    Gallatin County apparently has one awful right-wing legislator who keeps the folks in Bozeman from having much influence on this. I wonder if someone will target his seat?

    Obvious outside pressure will cause local resentment, so at the national level the key is to get to Congress without a big on-the-ground stir.

    Past test votes on the issue in Congress show the bison killers don’t have much of a majority at their command.

    Demonstrations just don’t work at the current time. Every period demands a different mix of political tactics. Fortunately, right now we are probably nearing a period of big transition.

    With the economic decline, there is a slight chance that a boycott Montana would be effective, but I am skeptical.

  9. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    April, Kim, Mac…
    We’ve had email addreses and phone #’s posted here of people to call and protest this slaughter including our congressmen, governors etc. How about a call in campaign to “Defenders” …(they have $$ and they have plenty of members), including myself. Ask them what the hell they’re doing about this and why they’re not organizing a rally, boycott, etc.
    I’ve tried repeatedly to get a response from them….doesn’t happen. But maybe if they got numerous calls it might make a difference.

  10. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    “Defenders of Wildlife”
    Bozeman Office..406-586-3970
    Wash DC. 202-682-9400

  11. AJ Avatar

    Ok I am gonna stick my neck out here being fully aware that I am not as versed as some of the fine folks on this forum. I hunt and I have always wanted to hunt and kill a bison with a muzzle loader or traditional archery tackle. I would use spot and stalk tactics like my ancestors before me have. I believe the meat is the finest there is. I have eaten it in the past and it is better for you than range cattle.

    Where I am getting at is there has to be some value in that type of activity and there has to be a way of engaging hunters or hunters groups to support a more productive bison management program than the “round them up and slaughter em” routine.

    Has any one thought of a public lands bison hunt using primitive weapons?? (any one can shoot them with a high powered rifle)

    I have always believed that the best way to conserve a species is to put value on it.

  12. Catbestland Avatar

    Ask to speak to Mike Lehy (I’m not sure of the spelling) in the Bozeman office. He assured me that there would be action taken on the bison’s behalf in the near future. Everyone needs to call.

  13. April Clauson Avatar
    April Clauson

    Jerry B, I went to the Defenders site, your right not a thing about Buffalo, I donate alot to them for wolves and other wildlife, I am going to write them and see about Buffalo also, mean while NRDC is trying to help. see below.

    Here ya go folks, some one is trying to save the bison, NRDC is asking for comments, money and the site has a place to send your message too…

    Stop the Brutal Slaughter of Yellowstone’s Wild Buffalo!

    Right now, wild buffalo are being rounded up in Yellowstone National Park and shipped to the slaughterhouse. In the spring, their baby calves will also be killed. Speak out now to put an immediate stop to this government-sponsored massacre.

    Dear april,

    Yellowstone’s wild, free-roaming buffalo herd is under siege.

    The Bush Administration is turning America’s greatest national park into a killing ground for hundreds of mighty bison — better known as American buffalo.

    We must speak out against this cold-blooded cruelty NOW — because every week, more of these noble creatures are being herded into cattle trucks to be slaughtered.

    This winter alone, more than 1,000 wild bison have been brutally killed by the National Park Service and the Montana Department of Livestock — or shipped to slaughterhouses.

    And come May, newborn calves are just as likely to be killed as their mothers.

    We cannot stand by and let this massacre continue: Send a protest message now.

    Right now, it’s still winter in Yellowstone, and these unsuspecting buffalo are following historic migratory routes in search of food at lower elevations where there is less snow.

    When the buffalo venture near or beyond the park’s boundary, they will continue to be rounded up and killed — unless we start a national outcry.

    What makes this sacrifice so senseless is that it’s all to protect 12 to 16 domestic cows and steers that graze near the park from the theoretical risk of a disease — brucellosis — that has never been transmitted from bison to cattle in a natural setting.

    Yes, you read those numbers right: 1,000 wild bison slaughtered to protect a little more than a dozen cows outside the park that have most likely been vaccinated against the disease, or easily could be.

    Please speak out and stop the slaughter. Yellowstone’s buffalo are a national treasure: America’s last, free-roaming herd. The National Park Service should be their guardian, not their executioner.

    Our goal this week is to create a virtual “stampede” of 50,000 protest messages that will convince the National Park Service to call a halt to the killing.

    Together, we must speak out to spare the lives of Yellowstone’s surviving buffalo so that they can again roam wild and free.


    Frances Beinecke
    NRDC Action Fund

  14. Brian Ertz Avatar

    i’m sending my dime to BFC ~ where i know for damn sure it’ll hit the ground.

  15. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Frances Beinecke with NRDC is claiming that the CUT – Church Universal and Triumphant – cattle herd is down to some 12 or 16 animals?

    Is this true? Has anyone verified this?

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I don’t know, but I’ve never seen very many as I have driven by.

    I think the cattle’s purpose is to extract a payment from the government and/or a conservation group.

  17. Buffaloed Avatar

    Here you can see information buffalo that hasn’t been updated for several years:

    Here you can read a fact sheet:

    Here you can adopt a buffalo.

    Here you can get real, up-to-date information and find out how you can support a organization who is on the ground EVERY DAY fighting to gain real habitat for buffalo:

    I don’t want to sound cynical but Defenders is another group, just like GYC, that raises money for buffalo work but doesn’t say a damned word when the biggest slaughter of wild buffalo since the 1870’s is occurring. It’s disgraceful.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Buffaloed is pretty much right. As far as I can tell, the only group actually doing anything continually on the ground is the Buffalo Field Campaign.

    There is a buyout underway of the Church Universal and Triumphant’s small number of cows north of the Park, and I think some other conservation groups are putting money into it.

  19. Buffaloed Avatar

    The buy out is good but it doesn’t really get much for buffalo. It appears that only 100 buffalo will be allowed to use CUT land which is fewer than the number of cattle.

    I have heard conversations about irrigating the flats near the Yellowstone River outside of the Roosevelt Arch area but there is no official discussion of this. It would allow for a significant amount of winter forage but what the implications would be I am not sure. For sure it is a very dry area because of the rain shadow caused by Electric Peak and nearby mountains. I think it might be an avenue worth investigating but I don’t know the other implications of it.

  20. Howard Avatar

    AJ’s comments are interesting, and mirror a thought I have had for some time… namely, that I would have thought that real hunters would love the opportunity for a fair chase wild bison hunt, and that such people should be recruited as allies against the “haze ’em back, round ’em up” travesty. I must be very naive about this, but I cannot understand why more hunters aren’t screaming about this lost opportunity. Wild bison in Montana would not only be a great victory for conservation, but would provide expanded hunting and cultural opportunities. Bison as a viable big game animal would not only generate hunter dollars, but for many people would be of special importance– humans have hunted bison for thousands of years and the very existence of several cultures were centered around it— I would think the return of a true bison hunt would be an immensely profound human experience for the true hunter (of any ethnicity). Unfortunately the bison, like the wolf, seems to have become a symbol of who’s in charge of the West, and the ruling powers seem hellbent on keeping both bison and bison advocates in their place.
    AJ also said:
    “I have always believed that the best way to conserve a species is to put value on it.” I agree with this as well, although value can be measured in non-consumptive practices (I am not implying that AJ said or believes otherwise, just my reiteration the historically myopic definition of “value” has benefited only a handful of species). Potentially, bison (perceived as both charismatic megafauna and a magnificent game animal) could generate tangible monetary value, and I think integrating wild bison (like deer and elk) into local cultural economies would greatly cement their protection (not that the livestock and mining industries and radical privatizers aren’t harming deer and elk and diminishing hunting opportunities, but no public official would dare openly call for mass slaughter of deer and elk). It seems that such forces may actually be trying to prevent some types of wildlife from becoming locally valuable (shouldn’t the wolf season in Idaho be slated for when wolf pelts are at their most luxurious and most valuable? Maybe this is over the top, but is it possible that anti-wolf law makers don’t want the wolf to become a valuable fur bearer in Idaho, which would have to be managed for populations large enough to sustain recreational and commercial trapping?).
    Also, while hunters should speak up about the needless slaughter of a game species, non-consumptive wildlife users must also somehow become part of states’ wildlife agencies constituency in a tangible political and economic way. In most states, nearly all funding for such agencies come from hunters. This is problematic in several ways. First, many state wildlife agencies are broke, and having “wildlife watchers” pay a share (excise taxes on binoculars, field guides, etc., as hunters do with hunting equipment and licenses, not fees to use public lands) would generate much needed funding. Second, I do agree with hunters that it is unfair that hunters pay for projects that many non-hunters benefit from/use as well. Third, it gives hunting interests virtually all grassroots constituency power (although many hunters are big picture conservationists, many also are not [ a hunter is a person who hunts… I strongly believe you cannot describe a “typical” hunter], and certain (not all) powerful hunting organizations in some regions may not represent the spectrum of hunters, or in some extreme cases seem to be front groups for more powerful anti-environmental interests). I strongly believe that the future of conservation rests heavily with grassroots organization and a tangible economic influence with state wildlife management agencies. I am fully aware that this idea is not knew, and that most attempts thus far to organize non-consumptive wildlife users into local constituencies that generate money to state agencies and have a real political and economic voice in state wildlife management, have failed. I am far from an expert in this, and welcome any input (or let me know if anything I’ve said is factually incorrect) about this. I am also only really familiar with wildlife agencies in eastern states, and it seems that the politics of western states may be very different vis a vi wildlife agencies and management.

  21. Concerned Avatar

    Many of us for several years now have wrote, talk to and petitioned the Bison be made a game animal and managed as such in the state of Montana, Right now, it seems as if DOL has far more power that FWP…but believe me, many of us have worked on this very thing for many years now.

  22. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    According to this article , the Interagency Bison Management Plan called for state and private commitments of $1.3M and federal commitments of $1.5M for a 30-year lease of grazing rights for the Yellowstone bison on the Royal Teton Ranch adjacent to the park.

    “It’s not in the budget,” said Bruce Knight, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.”

    In addition to bison removal, the service has been seeking a “meaningful long-term solution without the need for land acquisition,” Knight said, referring to efforts to develop a vaccination protocol for bison.

    APHIS is not adhering to the agreed upon Interagency Bison Management Plan. 1) they claim they don’t have the funds and 2) they’re trying to avoid “land acquisition,” i.e., acquiring the grazing rights.

    When a party to a contract fails to perform, what do you think happens? Yep, you take ’em to court.

    The feds should be forced to perform exactly as they agreed to perform.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  23. HAL 9000 Avatar
    HAL 9000

    I will echo what AJ said. I would love a chance to hunt Bison with my traditional black powder muzzleloading rifle. I had a friend who was lucky enough to hunt bison give me some cuts a few years ago. The meat is superb to anything I’ve had. Also, getting three generations of my family together to break a bison down and pack the meat out ourselves would be a tremendous experience.

    I agree, hunters should be far more ticked off about this lost opportunity. Also, fair-chase hunting is a far better conservation plan than just random rounding up and slaughter — all for the supposed protection of cattle from a threat that might not even exist.

    This needs more attention in the national press. I think if more people knew, they would be going ballistic.

  24. Howard Avatar

    In regards to the post from Concerned, I truly hope I did not give the impression that I think nobody is doing anything for the bison. Many individuals have indeed been fighting hard for years… my thoughts are that the state wildlife agencies need to view such folks as an influential constituency with a real hand in local politics and agency funding.

  25. Harmony Avatar

    I thought I would share and email from Martin Zaluski that I received after I inquired about what the Montana Department of Livestock is doing currently. His first email left me with more questions so I emailed him again. I feel more confused now at his response when the questions I posed were facts directly linked off of the Buffalo Field Campaign. I know there are quite a few people that frequent this site with some great wisdom, shed some light for me on this if you can.

    His first email:
    Thank your for your comments regarding bison and brucellosis risk management in and around the Greater Yellowstone Area, and specifically on Horse Butte peninsula. Bison and brucellosis risk management is an emotional and complex issue, with different interests holding different points of view.
    Bison in Montana are managed under the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) which was developed to establish and maintain a viable, wild bison population while managing/reducing the risk of brucellosis transmission to livestock. With last year’s late summer bison count at near record levels of 4,700 bison, and no documented transmission of brucellosis between bison and cattle, it meets these two objectives.
    In regard to Horse Butte, the Montana Department of Livestock will not support a “bison free zone” regardless of whether cattle are present or not. Our rationale is simple: Bison use Horse Butte as a staging area from which they disperse to areas where the potential for contact with cattle increases dramatically. Nineteen bison, for example, recently crossed the ice from Horse Butte onto the mainland at “the narrows” and quickly dispersed into an area defined as a no-tolerance zone by the IBMP.
    The Department would, however, like to discuss and develop bison and brucellosis management strategies that would allow for increased tolerance of bison on Horse Butte at certain times of the year. Unfortunately, the new owners of the former Munn’s Ranch have refused our repeated requests for a meeting. There is little we can do to develop and implement new management strategies if the largest private property holder on the peninsula is unwilling to meet with us.
    Let me close by stressing the immense complexity of the issue. No one interest, entity or agency is going to get everything it wants, so we must work together to do the best we can. And that’s exactly what the IBMP partners are doing. We collectively recognize that some folks don’t like the plan, but we also believe that the plan is not only working but working well. In the meantime, the Montana Department of Livestock will continue to fulfill its statutory mandate to maintain the separation in time or space between livestock and infected bison.

    Thanks again for your comments and interest.

    Marty Zaluski, DVM

    Montana Department of Livestock

    My second questions and his response:

    Why are Elk not managed in the same way? Does it seem odd that the concern over Bison and Elk with this disease are not the same?

    I am interested in understanding why Bison are slaughtered in area’s where there are no cattle, like Western Yellowstone. Why are the cattle not being vaccinated since their population is less in respect to a wild animal. It is less disruptive to the environment, the species and way more cost effective. Are we protecting a few ranchers cattle over and animal that does not have an open hunt? And that question brings me to my final question, Why are Bison not under State Management with Fish and game?

    I look forward to your responses.

    Harmony Nelson

    Really briefly:

    Elk are managed differently because there is no comprehensive plan such as the IBMP. Also, the prevalence in elk is much lower (0-3.8%), and they are much more migratory.
    Bison are managed to specific areas where we can maintain the perimeter. Allowing bison into areas with no cattle provides an unreasonable risk if we can’t be sure the population will stay in the low risk area.
    cattle are being vaccinated. 100% of the cattle around the park are vaccinated, but the vacc is not 100% effective.
    Bison are under Dept of Livestock management because management under Fish Wildlife & Parks did not maintain an effective separation, and MT faced export sanctions and a downgrade of our Brucellosis Free Status (regardless of whether successful transmission occurred or not).

    It’s a difficult issue. Believe it or not, we are looking for middle ground.


  26. vicki Avatar

    I am no biologist, but I know this….
    The United States has in place numerous laws placing requirements on vaccines and humans.
    In Colorado, the Cenetr fo Desease Control recently added two mandatory vaccines to their list of shots required for children attending public schools. Varivax (Chicken Pox and a Pertussis booster for children 9-19 with variations on when they should receive it due to the time frame in which they were last immunized for Tetanus as the vaccine is a combination of both.)
    Now, my point is, they require kids to get boosted for measles, mumps, reubella, chicken pox, tetanus, pertusis, influenza, and polio…soon HPV for females in most states will be madated. Not one of these immunization is 100% effective. It is projected,and has been shown that 30% of all people immunized for Chicken Pox will still get the desease.
    So, why do they place cattle in higher regard than the school aged children of America?
    The argument that Brucellosis vaccines are not 100% effective is laughable, as no vaccine ever is. Deseases mutate faster than we can keep up with.
    Cattlemen don’t really give a rat’s butt about bison spreading bruccelosis, they care about their grazing ability on public lands.
    Maybe congress needs to pass a law madating that all cattlemen presently grazing public lands should have to provide monetary compensation for every bison slaughtered. It should be exponential compensation, becuase they effect the genetic diversity and future numbers of bison. Therefore, they should be required to pay the same amount across the board. Each lease and grazing permit should have a conservation and habitat stamp apllied.
    For every bison slaughtered, each rancher should pay 1000 dollars per year. (Or something reasonable but not lenient)
    That money should be used for a general fund that purchases leases and lands to be conserved for wild bison, and other species. Furthermore, the fund could be available to finance educational programs in schools were communities are effected by the buy out or leasing of lands previously used to graze cattle.
    Just some thoughts.

  27. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Sounds good to me. Maybe something that could be advanced as legislation.

    It’s good to be on the offense instead of just pleading.

  28. vicki Avatar

    Has anyone presented this type of legislation before?

  29. Catbestland Avatar


    I’m with you that ranchers should have to pay some sort of compensation for the loss of wildlife and habitat caused by the presence of their cattle on public lands. I’ve long thought that they should be required to post bonds commensurate to the damage or even threat of damage caused. Once when the homeowners group that I belonged to, sought permission from the county to improve the road we lived on at our own cost, we were required to post and enormous (In our view) bond to ensure against damage to the practically impassable road. I see little difference in the two cases.

  30. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    In 1936 or so, Aldo Leopold suggested requiring landowners who receive conservation subsidies to compensate the public for damage to public wildlife–in that case raptors. I have been making this suggestion for over a decade; the first time I made the suggestion at a Wyoming Game & Fish Commission meeting about ten years ago, speaking against a proposal to give private landowners hunting licenses they could sell on the open market “as an incentive for conserving wildlife habitat,” I was nearly lynched.

    No legislator I have talked to will take it up, and I never heard of any legislator in the country proposing it. It’s OK for the public to pay compensation to landowners for wildlife damage to private property, but it is unthinkable to require private landowners to pay compensation to the public for damage to public wildlife or other public resources. That is why I have also been advocating a public trust approach for over a decade–to counter the political power that private landowners have over land and wildlife conservation and management.

  31. vicki Avatar

    I don’t know what you could do with private land owners, aside from enforcing EPA regulations where pollutants are concerned. I could only suggest one taking things one step at a time.

    I think it appropriate to apply the fee to those who would graze on public lands.

    Thus, the fee would be an incentive fro them to find other means of grazing. It would also aid in the further allocation of land for conservation and educating future generations.
    Ten years ago was just that, ten years ago. Maybe some might be more receptive now. I also think that you would get better reception by leaving private land owners alone at present. You won’t sway them right now. No many who has ever dreamed of owning a home would agree to let some one else tell them what to do with it once they bought it.

    However, maybe there should be legislation to create Home Owners Associations of sorts, that would govern land use and purchases in developing areas that are in or near vital habitat. Then the occupants have a say-so in what occurs on and within their own property. They could choose not to live where those rules don’t meet their needs. That might meet the public’s opinion of what is acceptable.

  32. robert Avatar

    Hey Buffaloed,

    I was wondering and anyone else know of a site to get a microscopic photo of the disease bruccelosis. I am planning an art exhibit in Livingston Montana on a theme dealing with bison and what we hold sacred. Buffaloed, I see you have some photo icon, small, but can not make it out to what it is.

    Please reply to

    Thank you


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.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan