Photo of Horse Butte

The importance of Horse Butte-

This is a photo of Horse Butte taken on April 13, 2008. The bare slope is extremely critical spring bison range, and Montana Department of Livestock tries to kick the bison off it every spring despite the Hose Butte Grazing allotment being closed and the rest of the Butte owned by people who want to see bison.
Horse Butte in mid April 2008

Gardiner, Montana is the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The area around Gardiner is much lower than the rest of Yellowstone Park, so hungry bison naturally travel downhill from the deep snow seeking the bare ground.

West of the Park, however, the country is flat and almost the same elevation as inside the Park. So why do they leave to the west?

The major reason is Horse Butte, a long low ridge that runs east to west, presenting a long bare south-facing slope to the rays of the spring sun.

In the past Montana Department of Livestock has been adamant that bison won’t get to use this grass although there are no cows to eat it in the spring, summer or fall. Moreover, the people who own the Butte and most neighbors want to let the bison use the butte.



, ,




  1. Carl Avatar

    Ralph is any of this area US Forest service lands? Weren’t the grazing allotments bought out by several conservation organizations just north of Yellowstone? Thanks for the pictures and write up.

  2. Buffaloed Avatar

    Yes, much of the Horse Butte Peninsula is USFS land that never even had allotments. There was an allotment on the southwest portion of the peninsula that was connected with the former Munz Ranch but it was retired a few years back and the Munz family sold to the Galanis’ who have adamantly refused access to the MDoL and want buffalo to be able to use this area. There is a small subdivision just to the northwest of the Butte and to the east of the former ranch where people have formed a group called HOBNOB or Horse Butte Neighbors of Buffalo which asks that buffalo be left alone and be allowed to use their property and adjacent USFS lands which will never again have cattle.

    There are many other private property owners that live in the area around West Yellowstone and Hebgen Lake who feel the same way. The Bar N Ranch is a notable example.

  3. Chuck Avatar

    Ok I have a question? Ok last year was the first time I have ever been to yellowstone, was so impressed went back 3 times, the first time we went was in May, during the buffalo hazing operation, stopped and spoke with a couple of very nice guys who worked with the buffalo field campain. This was the first I had ever heard of buffalo hazing and was quite frankly disgusted with the hazing. If it has been proven time and time again that the buffalo are not the animals responsible for transmitting brucellosis to the cattle. Why can’t we get affidavids and petitions and present all this to the Govenor of Montana and try to put a stop to this injustice that is being done to these magnificent creatures.

  4. Heather Avatar

    Good time for one of those ole fashioned protests…

  5. Carl Avatar

    Thanks for the info Buffaloed. I have been aware of this for several years but am only now starting to follow it more closely. On what lands are the buffalo actually being hazed or caught? Is it Park Service just before they leave?

  6. Wyomingite Avatar

    Hey Chuck,

    I just want to dispell a myth. While you are correct in implying that bison have never been implicated in the transmission of brucellosis to cattle in a field situation, this is only true because the technique to ‘prove’ transmission on a molecular level has not been developed. Bison are certainly capable of transmission in a laboratory setting and the epidemiology sure supports it in the field…but without a better molecular test, scientists and managers cannot use use the word ‘proven.’
    – – – –

    It has been demonstrated in the laboratory that brucellosis can be transmitted from an infected bison to a cow when they are confined together and the bison had first been injected with a high titer of brucellosis.

    Where does epidemiology support it in the field? Furthermore, perhaps you are not aware that in the field the bison are 20 miles from cattle when they are near West Yellowstone. The organism is not transported in the wind. Webmaster

  7. vicki Avatar

    dbh and I amy have a protest coming up. We’d love you to join us! You can get my email from Ralph.

  8. Nathan Hobbs Avatar

    I will be traveling to the region in the next few weeks, Ill be dedicating the majority of my time to wildlife photography but would like to protest by displaying some kind of message on the back window of my car, if any one has any suggestions of how exactly to sum this up in a short sentence I am all ears.

  9. Heather Avatar

    I’ll let ralph now vicki….!
    why dont you join Nathan??

  10. Nathan Hobbs Avatar

    let me know of details and Ill see, its crunch time right now at ISU but things should be easing up shortly.

  11. Wyomingite Avatar


    Epidemiological investigations point to domestic bison as the likely source of the disease in infected cattle herds found in North Dakota. See Flagg, D.E. 1983. A case history of a brucellosis outbreak in a brucellosis free state which originated in bison. U.S. Animal Health Assoc. Proc. 87: 171-172.

    In addition, wild elk or bison in the GYA have been identified as the most probable source of infection for five additional cattle herds in Wyoming and Idaho.

    If there is a buffer between bison and cattle around West Yellowstone…PROCLAIM IT TO THE MASSES!!! Use it in every way you can to stop the slaughter of bison. But please, do not allow poor interpretations and scientific myths to be entwined in your arguement.

  12. kim kaiser Avatar

    i couldnt help it folks,, i just got fed up, and had to come up with a new logo for the NPS,,, it just seemed appropriate,,maybe we can have a contest for the best new logo, and send all of them to the NPS dept of Interior for them to consider.

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The source of infection of the the infected cattle herds in Idaho and Wyoming was clearly infected elk, not bison. I presume you are familiar with elk feedgrounds of Western Wyoming and the high brucellosis seroprevalence rate of elk on them? You are also aware that the outbreak begin near the Muddly creek elk feedlot south of Pinedale? It did not begin in Jackson Hole where there are infected bison as well as infected elk.

    There are no wild bison in Idaho at all, only infected elk that drift in from Wyoming’s feedlots. These elk have been documented to have transmitted brucellosis to Idaho cattle twice now.

    As far as North Dakota goes where do you suppose the domestic bison acquired their infection in the first place.

  14. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Let me elaborate on the recent instances of elk passing brucellosis to cattle in Wyoming and Idaho. In each of the cases, the cause of infection was landowner and/or state wildlife agency negligence in allowing elk with high brucellosis seroprevalence to be fed in close and continuing proximity to cattle in violation of every known risk management protocol.

    In short, the actual cause of these infections was management negligence in allowing close and continuing proximity between elk and cattle during the time window of most likely transmission.

  15. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    In other words, the problem with elk is elk feedgrounds, without which Wyoming elk would not have brucellosis.

    Solution? Close the feedgrounds.

    But the ranchers oppose closing feedgrounds because the feedgrounds keep elk away from forage “reserved” for cattle.

    So essentially, the brucellosis outbreaks in Wyoming and Idaho cattle are due to the selfishness and greed of Wyoming cattle producers–their refusal to allow the State of Wyoming to shut down elk feedgrounds.

  16. Catbestland Avatar


    I love it. The only modification that might help drive the point home is a to make the tree in the background dead. Maybe some dead wildlife laying around.

  17. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Be very careful, the NPS, is very on the ball with the use of their logo, and could and have made life very difficult for people abusing their logo, or representations of their logos…

  18. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley

    News reports related to the recent brucellosis case in MT. are clear that elk were the culprit based on statements from the Stte Vet.

  19. vicki Avatar

    What, the stae vet says elk? Gettoutta here! (sarcasm intended). Who would have thought?
    So how long do you think the state vet will be employed in his current position?
    He clearly is not maintaining the party line.
    So, how does this effect anything? Not at all, because the basis for the current policy was a load of bullshit to begin with, so we can;t expect the truth to ever prevail with those guys.
    Maybe it’ll help with the fight, but then a few years from now, we fight the same fight for elk.
    I’m with RH-close the darn feedlots.

  20. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Your never going to fight the same fight for elk, elk are an economic asset in all three states, they give the issue of brucellosis mouth service in elk every single year, then continue to do the actions that allow the elk to be infected. Bison are not perceived as an economic asset.

  21. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I pressed the Montana State Vet Marty Zaluski on this issue of an elk source very closely in December in Bozeman at the Bison Open House and in fact, Montana DOL and APHIS have no proof that the Montana outbreaks were caused by elk. This is simply an empty claim that was unfortunately parroted by the Montana press.

    Due to APHIS incompetence, 6 of 7 cattle that tested positive for brucellosis at the feedlot went to slaughter and into the food supply before additional samples could be taken. It is also clear that the Morgan herd was an open herd, having received recent shipments of brucellosis vulnerable Corriente cattle from Texas and possibly Mexico.

    Given the failure to procure adequate samples from the affected cattle, neither DOL nor APHIS have any tangible evidence one way or the other as to the source of the outbreak, either cattle or elk. Given the examples of how brucellosis was transmitted to cattle from elk in Wyoming and Idaho, through close and continuous contact on feedlines, I think it highly unlikely that elk were responsible for what happened in Montana, since there is no evidence of close and continuous contact between elk and cattle in the Montana case.

    Zaluski could provide no evidence that brucelloisis infected elk were in close and continuous contact with the Morgan herd; when I spoke to him, he kept referring to “elk days” when elk were on the Morgan property. I don’t think that’s good enough. As we’ve seen in Wyoming and Idaho, close and continous contact is necessary.

    My own considered view is that brucellosis came into the herd from the imported Corriente cattle. Let’s not forget that Texas just received its brucellosis free status, and it is entirely possible that there are residual pockets of brucellosis still in Texas cattle. That’s especially true if the cattle originated in Mexico, which is not brucellosis free.

    Having followed this issue closely for years, I certainly do not think the market surveillance system is perfect and no doubt problem cattle do make it past surveillance.

    I do know that AHPHIS has no incentive to acknowledge a possible cattle source in a brucellosis outbreak, and has every incentive to claim a wildlife source. That’s part of the politics of brucellosis.

    Such happened with the Parker case nearly 20 years ago, which occurred three years after Wyoming originally received B-free status and shortly after a new market surveillance system went into place, which interestingly had been designed by the epidemiologist (Bridgewater) who did the epidemiological report on the Parker outbreak.

    I’ve been through the case files for both the Wyoming and federal lawsuits that Parker filed, and the scientific evidence presented in the hearings and courts is clear that the APHIS report was substandard and provided no tangible evidence that either bison or elk had infected Parker’s herd, as claimed by Parker and APHIS. It’s unfortunate that the federal judge in the Parker case, Clarence Brimmer, ignored the scientific evidence presented in trial and declared that elk or bison had infected Parker’s cattle, but since Parker couldn’t prove whether federally managed or state managed elk or bison had infected his cattle, he had no case for compensation for the loss of his herd.

    If one thinks about it, this was clearly a nonsensical decision. However, in the State case, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled against Parker.


  22. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley


    Thanks for clearing that up. I have been under the obviously mistaken impression, I guess from the vets comments about elk days and the complete lack of conversation about buffalo that elk were determined to be responsible. It is interesting but not surprising that imported cattle never made it into the press (or I didn’t see it).

    Thanks again,

  23. vicki Avatar

    Save bears,
    It might be less of a fight, but when cattlemen could no longer pull the state’s strings to keep bison off of grazing land…they will have a lot of timeon their hands.
    Elk may be an asset to the state, but they aren’t to ranchers. Ranchers want cheapgrazing and complete control. When you remove bison from that equation, you are left with elk.
    Is that a fight that ranchers could win, well it is doubtful. But I don’t put it past them to try anyhow.
    I do sincerely hope you are right though.
    However, until you remove power over public lands from the cattlemen and energy companies, you will always be fighting for some animal….bison, wolves, bears, sage grouse, black footed ferrets, you name it.

  24. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    When your talking an economic force in the hundreds of millions, such as elk, based on my studies, when I was with the agencies, your never going to see the fight, in the way you imagine it!

  25. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley


    The following is from a Washington Post article March 23,2008

    “In addition, the agency limited the information it used in ruling on the 90-day citizens’ petitions that lead to most listings. In May 2005, Fish and Wildlife decreed that its files on proposed listings should include only evidence from the petitions and any information in agency records that could undercut, rather than support, a decision to list a species.

    Unsigned notes handwritten on May 16, 2005, by an agency official, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, attributed the policy to Douglas Krofta, who heads the Endangered Species Program’s listing branch. The notes said employees “can use info from files that refutes petitions but not anything that supports, per Doug.”

    Hall said the agency abandoned that policy in late 2006, but he issued a memo in June 2006 that mirrors elements of it, stating, “The information within the Service’s files is not to be used to augment a ‘weak’ petition.” ”

    I named i the Kempthorn Doctrine. I cannot find if any buffalo petition was made during this period of time and I am very suspect of any statement from Hall on any thing much less his claim that the policy was abandoned. After all, the policy appears to be defined by a hand written note on policy documents uncovered by the Post’s Freedom of Information action


  26. vicki Avatar

    Save Bears,
    I find that reassuring. thanks so much.
    Have you found work elsewhere? What would you like to be doing with your experience?
    What specifically did you research? Any one animal? I am always interested to know how things actually transpire and where they can lead. I hope you find a career that allows you to better use your education and experience… a bit more job security involved with doing the right thing.

  27. vicki Avatar

    Save Bears,
    even if we are never forced to fight for elk… the list of other worth while causes is large enough to span lifetimes. Sad.

  28. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I recall one news story that referenced the Corriente cattle but there’s been little other reference to it in the press, except by conservationists. APHIS and DOL are both asserting that the Corrientes weren’t the source. Unfortunately, we don’t have any data to prove it one way or the other.


  29. JB Avatar

    Thanks Don!

  30. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley


    Thanks, they don’t need proof (or don’t want it) Come to think of it, they don’t need any thing, just do what they want.

    Thanks Bob.

  31. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Thanks, actually I have not looked for another position, I am contemplating writing a book, my area of study, was Elk and Deer, most of my focus since moving to Montana several years ago, has in fact been bison, but nothing published, after my experience working within the establishment, I have lost a lot of the passion for the wildlife industry and the biology industry as a whole, I may actually start teaching at some time in the future, perhaps a independent wildlife education school for troubled teenagers

  32. vicki Avatar

    Save Bears,
    Awesome idea. Do you know of a school? I don’t know of better therapy than learning to deal with yourself through nature. I contemplated starting a non-profit for inner-city teens at risk. I would love to be able to take them to the mountain, so to speak. I say go for it. That is not only the best way to help the kids, but help the world they live in.

  33. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    The group I work with, Bison Vision of Livingston Montana, is doing just that, using a ranch in Eastern Montana (in the epicenter of the Poppers Buffalo Commons) as a teaching center. Social order buffalo are to be an integral part of this plan. These animals (30 satellite family members) will be in place this fall and the teaching already going on this summer will be expanded next year to show how bison life can be a guide to human living … whether it is troubled teens or corporations. I am looking forward to being a part of something that relates back to when Plains Indians studied buffalo to apply their behavior to their own lives. We will see how this expands to corporate retreats etc. A lot has to be done. Earth lodge training center communities and all that. i will keep folks up on happenings.

  34. vicki Avatar

    That is incredible. I wish I had enough expertise to contribute. Anytime you can help the youth, you help the future. I admire what you are doing. I’ll keep your endevours close to heart, and if I can ever be of help, I am at your service.
    I have a 15 year old son who has had some rough times with a anti-father. He also has ADHD. But when he is outdoors, his spirit really transecends anything angry or disfunctional. He finds peace, and for a kid who is b=never resting that is so huge, and so healing. I really have hopes that he may someday find a way to place education and his love for nature in the same place. That would assure him success, and more importantly, happiness. He’s one of those magnetic personalities, so he could really help the world, if he had the right tools. As a mother, I am sometimes left feeling helpless. This type of school gives me hope.


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