Why are Yellowstone bison such an Intractable issue?

Why are the bison of Yellowstone National Park still such an intractable issue? Great Falls Tribune.

A Montana newspaper finally asks some tough, but obvious questions about the bison slaughter.




  1. TPageCO Avatar

    One perspective this article omits is the one you have noted many times here, Ralph. The bison issue is really about the federal/state conflict over control of public lands/wildlife. It’s the same thing that has created problems with sheep, bears, wolves, and on and on. As we go forward over the next fifty years, I’m putting my long term bets on the wildlife side of things winning out. Why? Economics of ranching, more guys like Ted Turner doing private land work, the rampant growth of wildlife conservation groups who will wield more power as the money increases… Sometimes I think people need to look back at 1908 (no wildlife to speak of anywhere) and 1958 (we were blowing off nuclear bombs on public land in Nevada) for a sense of perspective. There’s lots to work on sure, and several trends are not good, but those who expect total victory in a short time are not realistic.

  2. Brian Ertz Avatar

    So why is this still an issue?

    One possibility is that a small industry has grown up around the stalemate. Call us cynical, but quite a few biologists, bureaucrats, animal rights people and lawyers have made a pretty good living off of this dispute for the past couple of decades

    This is a good question

  3. Carl Avatar

    What happens to the remains of the buffalo that are slaughtered?

  4. Catbestland Avatar

    I have a question. Is it possible that some of these bison are not actually going to slaughter but instead are being sold to canned hunt operations? I know of one that boasts that their’s are wild buffalo and the hunt is as authentic as in the old west.

  5. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Normally the meat is given to Native American Tribes as cooked properly it is quite good and presents no danger, as far as being sold into canned hunts, I can tell you for a fact they are not being sold for canned hunts, the people that provide the canned hunts raise their own Bison for this purpose, but again, the meat hides, and heads go to various Native American tribes..

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There would be no purpose selling these bison for canned hunts because 95% bison are common and would certainly satisfy a person who hunts in an enclosed.

    As far as the Native American thing, I suspect not all is above board. That’s the way the tribe here in SE Idaho feels.

  7. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Don’t know if it is above board or not, I do know they have given thousands of pound of meat to tribes here in Montana this year, but I also know for a fact they have gone to waste in the past, I have video from 96-97 where they were killed an bulldozed into a mass grave and covered up

  8. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Knowing how lockers here in Iowa cut out the loins for themselves from deer that are suppose to be going to the poor and I’d say very few bison filets make it to the Tribes. They are too much in demand by eating establishments. I’d say the bison hauling truck drivers, inspectors, locker help, management, DOT boys, and some of those delivering to the tribes are getting all loins …and meat…that aren’t sold under the counter to middlemen. I have been around the meat industry as a bison producer and bison meat provider and everything I ever saw was an inside game. We have to watch what we are getting from every locker we have delivered bison too. Even then it is hard to catch everything. Beef trim replaces bison meat and on and on.

    With Yellowstone bison being treated as surplus, the attitude with everything surrounding the “giving of free meat” means ant and everthing is possible and is happening at this plant and beyond.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    What Bob Jackson says is consistent with the story told by the Shoshone-Bannock tribe (SE Idaho) when they were told there was bison meat for them in Montana.

    When they went to the slaughterhouse, they didn’t like what the meat looked like, what was missing, and the fake “inspected” stamps on it, so they left it.

  10. kim kaiser Avatar

    i paid 17.00 a pound for bison steaks in a WHOLE FOODS MARKET in Baton Rouge, La a year a so or go.. it was good, but that price was painful….

  11. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    kim, I talked with a Whole foods meat counter guy in St. Louis a year ago.
    Upon questioning he said just about all of Whole Foods bison meat comes from feedlotted bison imported from Canada…..and the aging cooler one sees in prominent display, he also finally admitted, is for show. Such is the illusion one sees in the meat industry.

  12. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Bob, what would have to happen for bison to become competitive with beef – price wise?

  13. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Mack, in my response to your question, I am going to shoot straight from the hip. The answer I give may seem like a gloomy outlook for our people’s choice of food but at least it does give us a place to start in repairing our food sources.

    Probably the best way to start is to ask another question. How do we make cars competitive to all the other cars? Answer, make them all the same. Of course, then we have to decide if we want to make this universal model a car that is reliable, long lived and efficient or go for the one that breaks down 1 mile after it leaves the car lot.

    The meat industry has copped out for the second path. This includes the bison “industry”. Instead of making beef like bison, buffalo cow-calf producers are trying to make their animals like beef. Feed lot operators pay more for bison with small heads so feed conversion goes into the body instead of “throw away” parts. Because hind quarters bring more money than the front these same feed lot folks also pay more for young bison with less hump. And because packing plants have an assembly line system that means connective tissue and bone has to be soft… and grocery stores need to package product so the consumer can eat meat the American way, younger animals that grow fast means more money in the pocket book.

    So to answer your question, Mack, as soon as we get a buffalo to look and live exactly like a modern cow, bison will become competitive with beef- – -price wise.

    What humans take in them for fuel, animal and plant food, is what keeps our bodies running. The car that breaks down a mile out of the show room is the beef / bison that we eat in this country today (including all that supposed healthy bison at Whole Foods, Kim). Ninety-ninety five percent of the buffalo in this country are feedlotted before the meat is served on ones plate.

    An indication of the health of this animal is in the liver. The liver stores fat soluble vitamins and filters out toxins. Forty percent of all bison livers from 2 yr. olds (the age most bison are butchered) have to be thrown away because of interlaced puss. With mature bison 90% of livers are thrown away. This is compared to where bison live more naturally, like on our farm. Preliminary research showed 19 times the amount of fat soluble vitamins in our 6 month old frozen liver compared to fresh beef liver from the grocery store. We have butchered hundreds of bison, processing and packaging all the organ meat ourselves (the lockers won’t process organ meats anytime different than when animals are cut up…and since we hang 21 days the organ meat would rot) and have had only one liver with even the slightest puss in it. Since we butcher little but mature bison this statistic shows there is something seriously wrong when bison ranchers are willing to compromise the product they raise to make it “competitive with beef-price wise”.

    The truth of nutrition is; (1) nutrients can not be maximized within a body until that body stops growing. (2) As long as an animal is healthy the parts of a body used the most stores the most nutrients. Thus, one soon realizes this countries way of quantifying price in our meat choices and preparation preferences is just the opposite of what it should be. Connective tissue and bone holds vast amounts of nutrients in mature animals. The hind quarter of a grazing animal basically has one movement function, to push forward. The front quarter moves forward as well as side to side (The extremities such as the tail and the cheek muscles, oxtail soup anyone, moves a lot and thus have the most nutrients).

    If nutrition ever trumps hype and packer assembly line “efficiency” in this country then, and only then, do I see beef beginning to look like the bison of old …. and also raised like them. Nature’s bison have huge front quarters and massive necks. Each of these parts has a lot more nutrition pound for pound than the $17/# Kim gave for her bison steaks at Whole Foods ( I have to admit a bison tail is a lot smaller than a cow’s tail, though, but bison move it a lot more of the year than cattle move theirs). To put nutrition in historical perspective, Indians in times of plenty gave the hind quarters to their dogs.

    Now to get to what Mack was probably looking for when he asked what it would take to make bison meat competitive. In other words, bison don’t need near the care and upkeep as cattle. There is not the cost of calving, protective buildings during inclement weather and vet health needs. Yes, this is so, but this is offset by lockers charging more for the time it takes for skinning (twice as long), splitting carcass difficulties and hard bone slowing down and dulling band saw blades 3 times faster than beef during carcass cut up. Transporting any mature live bison also means gamey taste and bruised meat that has to be thrown away. If one goes the alternate way, field slaughter, like we do at Tall Grass bison, hauling bled animals to the locker 50 miles away, another trip in two weeks to sample a cut of meat so we can tell the butcher how to best cut that animal up in another week ….and then picking up that product, unpacking it all and weighing and recording every package ….. and sorting and boxing by quarter, then storing in a walk in freezer kept at zero or colder …then marketing and finally packing for UPS …and one soon sees what goes into a quality food …. or why the price of the different models of cars is what it is.
    When it comes to a quality model of car, I mean bison, one also realizes this animal is not emotionally the same animal as the ones Indians ate. Without social order, stress is inherent in every animal. Thus, any animal from private herds raised like cattle, whether its mom and pop or Ted Turners million acre ranches, is not the same nutritionally as Pre Whiteman. It is the same with today’s dysfunctional elk and deer herds. These families, due to state hunting regulations geared towards harvest of individuals, are terminally broken. Until herd animals are allowed to regain social structure there is no restoration ecologically or nutritionally.

    Yes, few bison in feedlots, and no animals in the Wild, are fed antibiotics or steroids, but this is little comfort when one realizes what modern man has done to every animal under his control. I believe price/lb. at the meat market and flawed hunting regulations have limited the health potential of this country’s citizens and its lands more than any other factors we can think of.


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Ralph Maughan