Deal opens up land to some Yellowstone bison: Officials praise plan as critics say it will make little difference

Deal opens up land to some Yellowstone bison: Officials praise plan as critics say it will make little difference. By Matthew Brown. Associated Press.

I just read some comments on this blog with opinion that the headlines were saying this is a great deal. Above is the exact headline as the Billings Gazette printed it today. Others to the same story do make it seem a bit grand.

The mainstream media usually gives the “official” position some deference at first, but it doesn’t seem to me like the Gazette headline or the actual Matthew Brown story hails this “as breaking an eight-year impasse on one of the National Park Service’s most divisive wildlife issues.” That’s what YNP superintendent Suzanne Lewis called it.

As the true magnitude of this winter’s losses become apparent, the issue will not go away. The tokenism of this gesture will become evident.

There needs to be a petition adding the Yellowstone bison to the endangered species list and separate populations established. Before anyone says “Oh, there are hundreds of thousands of bison in the United States,” it should be pointed out that none of them are pure bison. They have cattle genes, an animal not native even to this continent.

This is a classic example of the danger of having all of a rare species in one place. If a species is all in one small space, it doesn’t matter a great deal if there are 10,000, 4000, or 1000. They can all be reduced to dangerous territory by the coincidence of a couple adverse events.

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Update: the story in the Bozeman Chronicle. The plan is utterly worthless. Read this part. “Plans now call for toleration of 25 bison that have tested negative for the disease. In future years, up to 100 would be allowed, but only until April 15, when all bison would be hazed back into the park.”

. . . . . .

“This is the first time since the (bison plan) was implemented that they’ve done anything on the conservation side,” said Michael Scott, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “It sets us on a course for finding more room for bison around the park.”

GYC, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Montana Wildlife Federation have pledged to help with the fundraising.

Errol Rice, executive director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said he wasn’t surprised at the announcement and that his group will carefully monitor the situation to make sure bison don’t stay out of the park past April 15. [Boldface mine]

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These groups are going to cooperate with these greedy bastards! Give your money to the Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watsheds Project instead.


  1. Brian Ertz Avatar

    at some point people will begin demanding that their hard earned dollars, given in good-faith to good causes, be held to a certain standard of effectiveness related to their intended pursuit, as opposed to subjective organizational solvency. half-measures, photo-ops, and feel-good hollow promises do not hold up to a standard of spending others’ donated dollars and what i must believe to be the true will of members’ wishes in a way pursuant to the responsible exercise of the authority and resources granted these organizations’ associative enterprise. why waste these resources in a way that diminishes the political salience that has been built toward the realization of lasting solutions by way of struggle for so long ? millions spent to greenwash this industry and lend false legitimacy to this extortion masquerading as conservation. this promise of painless advocacy, cordiality with adversarial interests, and exceptionally expensive incrementalism – to the point of absurdity, is bankrupt.

    the commercialization of conservation, such as this and so many other examples represent, is a wayward path – those that think they can escape the dead-end of it are fooling themselves.

  2. mikarooni Avatar

    I know that most of you are not eager to hear the input of a rancher; but, allow me to repeat what I posted on another site concerning this mess.

    If you go back to 1998, the stated justification for this deal with CUT has always been to provide grazing for bison. The taxes to be spent on this adventure were justified as support for the bison; the donations to the “conservation” groups were justified as support for the bison; and, although there may be peripheral benefits and land rights obtained through the deal, the goal of the deal was overwhelmingly to be about grazing room for the bison, was justified to the taxpayers as grazing room for the bison, and was sold to the appropriators as grazing room for the bison. Since 1998, working with CUT to get this grazing room for the bison has, to the best of my rough reckoning, cost more than $15 million ($13 million in 1998 and now another $2+ million), not counting the time and cost of the bureaucrats, lawyers, politicians, and accountants. To the best of my understanding, this deal now covers 30 years of grazing access and allows a maximum of 100 head on the property for about half time, given that they now want the bison off the land by April 15th each spring. Stay with me here…

    We, ranchers, commonly measure herds for grazing rights in terms of Animal Units (AUs). For the purposes of this analysis, we can count one head of bison as being one AU and the result from a money standpoint will actually be charitable to CUT. We, ranchers commonly pay for grazing rights in terms of Animal Unit Months (AUMs), which is the right to graze one AU for one month. Stay with me here…

    So, let’s calculate what CUT is getting paid for these grazing rights. You start with the $15 million that they have gotten total since 1998 (again being charitable to CUT by not counting any interest or escalation on the first $13 million); then you divide by 30, because the deal allows access for 30 years, and you get the rough annual cost of the deal; then you divide by 100, because the deal only allows a maximum of 100 AUs on the property at any time, and you get the cost per year per AU; and, finally, you need to divide by 6, because they are only going to allow access for roughly 6 months each year, and you get the cost per AUM. By my calculation, the cost is a bit more than $800 per AUM and that is being very charitable to CUT in my assumptions and not even counting inflation over the 30 years.

    The normal cost to graze public lands is a bit less than $2 per AUM. In cases of excellent private land grazing rights, the cost can go as high as $20 to even $60 per AUM. Again, by my calculation above, your cost, my cost, the taxpayer’s cost, for these grazing rights seems to be a bit more than $800 per AUM. The situation is all the more ridiculous because this tremendously corrupt amount of money per AUM is being spent to support only 100 bison at any one time, something less than 3% of the herd. My point is, of course, that this deal seems incredibly corrupt whether you like bison or don’t like bison or don’t dare one way or another. The “bottom line” is that CUT is more like SCREW in this case and in others as well given their history. The culpability doesn’t stop there. The granola and sandals crowd can be forgiven for not knowing how much an AUM should cost; but MT DOL damn sure does; Tester and Schweitzer should know; Rehberg and Baucus should know; and even the GYC should know what they are collecting donations for. I am all for the bison; but, this CUT crap sure seems to stink.

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Thanks for giving the best detailed explanation I’ve yet seen for the extortionist nature of this deal. From my perspective, the CUT deal demonstrates how mainstream conservation has now largely become a matter of deal making, and certainly, sweetening the pot is one form of deal making. Except that this pot is more sour than sweet for the public.

    Schweitzer, YNP, NWF, GYC, etc. are trying to spin this as a good deal for bison, but I think the backlash for this– especially considering the large number of bison slaughtered this winter, taking the total number of bison well below the lower limit set on bison numbers in the IBMP, as well as the limitations on the number of bison allowed to roam on the CUT property– is going to be such that the deal might find itself under legal challenge. This is, after all, largely public money.

    And quite frankly, I think it is unlikely that we’ll ever see 100 bison allowed out, so that raises the value of the AU/AUM considerably.


  4. Brian Ertz Avatar

    we really have no idea the extent to which this deal is good or bad until we see the deal. perhaps it is fair to speculate based on the publicized posturing of politicians ~ either way ~ whether it is fair or not, i would submit that it is not wise. tenets of the deal may be held to be legitimate with regard to review – others might not. which are held to be legitimate and which have the potential to fall are extremely important. the hold that private property right has in all of this is very important – if that hold is broken and the agency concessions are not premised on property right – a whole new leverage may break open with which anyone, weak-kneed or not, has the opportunity to contribute to the management of bison in a whole new way.

  5. bozemanactivist Avatar


    If the hypothetical you raised is correct, it would be a small tactical gain, but it would do nothing to change the fundamentals of the deal and how bad it is for buffalo. Let me use a similar example. The Nez Perce and the Salish Kootenai are asserting treaty rights, using their old treaties as leverage to assert their tribes and perhaps their say on the buffalo situation. Whether for good or ill, the use of treaties by indigenous tribes for their advantage does very little to undo the great injustice done to those tribes by those same treaties.

    My point is that even if there are opportunities in the deal, whatever good can be exploited does not make the deal any less rotten. Buffalo will continue to be killed, hazed, harassed, and tortured under this deal. It does not actually move the cause of a single buffalo still alive forward.

    And, no future action that makes use of opportunities that may exist in it will make it any less so. We know the essential details already, and we know that the buffalo have been sold out for a huge sum of money.



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