Christian Science Monitor looks at the awful winter for Yellowstone Bison

In Montana, bison plan paused. Ranchers and conservationists are increasingly at odds, as Yellowstone herd numbers plunge. By Todd Wilkinson. Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor.

Actually, I think the genetically pure bison is now in danger of extinction and should be added to the endangered species list.


  1. Peter Kiermeier Avatar

    Meeting the picturesque iconic American Bison on a trail in Yellowstone is always a memorable experience and something you´ll never forget. I have overheard quite a few voices that bemoan the lack of Bison in the valleys this spring! These bison killing fields in Montana are a shame. I really hope you can get rid of that nightmare soon.
    I´m eagerly looking forward to the planned reintroduction of the European Buffalo, the Wisent (Bison Bonasus), into a German forest. While maybe not as grotesque looking and not nearly as iconic as the American Bison, the Wisent is nevertheless a powerful and impressive animal (some call it “the king”) and a determined bull has a similar reputation for temperament as his cousin in the new world. Hikers here will have to accept that you better circumnavigate a Buffalo at some distance! The project itself receives some opposition from a few landowners that fear that the animal will chew and trample to death all their precious trees. He, we are talking about a herd of about two dozen animals! Let´s give them a chance!

  2. Buffaloed Avatar

    I was in the Park last week and went on a patrol for the BFC. Here I was, at the 7-Mile Bridge on the Madison River, observing the Montana Department of Livestock, who had hazed buffalo, using a helicopter, from the permanently cattle free Horse Butte Peninsula, nearly 20 miles away, the day before, haze them again several miles deeper into WYOMING and the National Park. All told the MONTANA agents drove buffalo at least 10 miles into WYOMING to Madison Junction! I believe that this is testament to how powerful we have let the Montana ranchers become. We must stop this insanity.

  3. Indamani Avatar

    We need more people to get involve and also to let the nation know about the cruel treatment and slaugter of the Yellowstone bison. I spoke to a lady (a wild life lover) recently, about the plight of the american buffalo. She was sad and said that she was not aware of the plight of the Yellowstone bison. I told her about BFC website and she promised that she would read up on it. I felt good that day because I had informed another person of the pain and suffering of the iconic bison at the cruel hands of the greedy montana ranchers and the state and federal governments.

  4. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel


    In your lead-in to this article, you stated that you are concerned that the genetically pure bison are in dangered of extinction. I raised this issue a couple of months ago during the hieght of the killing. There were really no takers on that idea.

    In order for this proposition to take hold, there are going to have to be indisputable scientific evidence supporting the listing petition. Who will promote a listing petition? BFC? Wolf Recovery Foundation? GYC? Defenders? There are many people on this blog that were outraged by the killing of this past Spring. We all should come together to make some sort of definitive plan of attack.

    At any rate, listing is at least a year away and will hopefully, there will be a far better climate for emperiled flora and fauna.


  5. john weis Avatar
    john weis

    Ralph, What is a ” genetically pure bison”? How do we know what is and what is not?

    John, in the context folks are talking about here, it would mean no cattle genes mixed in. Ralph Maughan

  6. Buffaloed Avatar


    This is a post I made on another thread:

    As far as the number of buffalo that still remain in Yellowstone. The official estimate as of April 11 is 2145. Since that time there has been a significant winter kill and green-up still is behind schedule. The number of buffalo is probably fewer than the 2100 number in the IBMP which requires that the agencies use non-lethal methods.

    What we have now is 4 genetically pure herds of buffalo.

    Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve which has ± 50 individuals
    Grand Teton National Park ± 700 individuals
    Wind Cave National Park ± 500 individuals
    Yellowstone National Park ± 2100 individuals

    That means that there are ±3350 genetically pure buffalo left in the U.S.

    But wait, there are problems with this.

    Wind Cave National Park shares a border with Custer State Park which has hybrid buffalo. These buffalo have been known to cross this border although there has been no confirmed reproduction between the two.

    The Teton Herd may also have problems. These buffalo came from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park herd has been shown to have cattle genes in them.

    In other words, YNP buffalo are the only sure thing here. We know that Yellowstone’s buffalo are genetically pure but it is not a sure thing that the other herds are pure or of significant size to ensure their own genetic diversity.

    You can read the study here:
    A Comprehensive Evaluation of Cattle Introgression into US Federal Bison Herds

  7. JB Avatar


    A recent attempt to list the YNP bison failed. In my view, this happened for two reasons: (1) FWS under the Bush administration has adopted the most limiting view possible of a species’ range (range is limited to the current range of a species) and (2) the petitioner asked that bison be considered as a distinct population segment.

    For the bison to be listed we need (1) a change in administration, (2) the Bush administration’s faulty interpretation of the ESA to be thrown out…again, and (3) a petition to list the plains bison as endangered throughout its range (not as a DPS). Bush will be gone in 6 months and we will likely have a ruling throwing out FWS’s faulty interpretation by then as well. This will clear the way for a 2009 petition.

  8. Buffaloed Avatar


    As far as a petition for an ESA listing is concerned, yes, there are people working on it. I don’t believe that GYC or Defenders are part of the process.

  9. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    JB and Buffaloed,

    Thanks for the information. As I noted in my post, listing will have to occur in a new adminstration, not Bush’s. Ground work should already be started with both candidates. However, Obama didn’t know for sure until last night.

    It is my position, that this is an issue for both parties. How to get this on both agendas is pretty much out of my range of influence. Anybody have some contacts?


  10. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    I should have been more clear. The environment as a whole should be a campaign issue with declining populations of wildlife in particular. Bison are an example. The needless killing of bison should be a reason why the Bush policies can no longer be tolerated.


  11. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    For those interested in the election, we created a flyer (pdf) that in part calls on McCain and Obama as President to take the buffalo issue seriously, starting by withdrawing federal support for the IBMP. The flyer is geared mostly to people in Bozeman; however, the top half is relevant anywhere.

    By the way, also, for those in this area interested, we’re holding a public forum at the Bozeman Public Library at 6:30 PM on June 30 focused on advocacy tools for people in the Gallatin Valley who want to help the buffalo. We’re focusing on three areas (Web/media/outreach, cooperation and support for other groups – especially BFC; and there are some novel ideas there -, and legislative. On the last bit, we expect state rep. Mike Phillips to talk about the legislative process, especially as it might work in respect to legislation he plans to sponsor on behalf of the Gallatin Wildlife Association that would remove the disease-control (therefore DOL control) status of bison.

    So, Bozeman plugs along, but we are definitely short on volunteer help here and could definitely use more. You can find out more on the Web site (click on my name) or meet us every Tuesday (5-8 PM at the Bogert Famers Market) or come to one of our weekly Wednesday evening meetings.

    Sorry for all the “ads”, but we are serious about supporting the great work of BFC and doing something locally for the buffalo. Hopefully, others who happen upon this are as well, especially if they live here in southwestern Montana.

  12. Brian Ertz Avatar


    appointments are where these political decisions will be made. as far as the candidates are concerned – it is likely to be a matter of elbowing in wildlife issues to the broader, more vague “agenda” of global warming, commitment to science, etc.

    the worst case scenario would be schweitzer or some other rocky mountain western faux Democrat as Secretary of Interior — scratch that – the worst case scenerio would be mccain as president.

    IMO – the best case scenario would be Grijalva, current chairman of the US House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Of course, that would mean a new subcommittee chairman.

    Grijalva is a good man, organizing letters to him might bare fruit.

  13. Catbestland Avatar

    Jim or Brian,
    Not to sound completely potically ignorant, but how do we get our own lobbyists? I keep hearing that the livestock and outfitting industries have lobbyists putting forth their interest in Congress. How do we do the same? I can’t help but believe that if some of these decision makers hear of the plight of our bison and wolves, they will be moved to act in their favor.

  14. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Some of the professional environmental groups have lobbyists – like Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and they have the ear of the governor. The problem is that GYC and their ilk have not been friends of the buffalo and to some extent have been co-opted by ranching interests.

    To be a lobbyist, you need to be where the politicians are. So, they would in this case need to be in Helena. It’s not hard to be a volunteer and be a lobbyist, but that doesn’t mean the politicians or their staff listen to you. Politics is about money and votes. You have to be able to produce the goods, or they don’t care. Fundraising, parties, large lists of people who can be mobilized to vote – so just lobbying is not good enough.

    You can see that I don’t have a lot of faith in our political system, as such. I don’t think we have the means to schmooze them; I think we have only have the means to out and embarrass them – which isn’t lobbying, it’s protest. Usually, in social movements, the politicians are the last to come around. They have to be made to understood that they need to get on board.

    However, we aren’t in a place yet where we can accomplish much from protest, either – not without public education, not without building something first. Not that that and working on lobbying and all these other things shouldn’t be tried, but that we cannot forget that we have to organize ourselves first as we are doing that.

    So, the key to me isn’t Schweitzer or how to get his ear, but everything now is about realizing that as individuals we are useless unless we find ways to work together and organize together – then, what we do to influence Schweitzer and his kind will have more sway.

    Thus, that’s why when we have an action like the BFC one in Helena, the goal isn’t to win – we can’t with a theatrical display and a fun banner to give to Schweitzer to embarrass him without more behind it – the goal is to stay active so that we can build a movement that can. George Washington won the Revolutionary War in large part because he never left the field and a movement built around him that would make the colonies ungovernable even if he had lost; that’s kind of what we need to do here. And, one day we will win for the buffalo – not so much at Yorktown or Saratoga but in the strengthening bonds of small groups of people working for that purpose.

  15. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel


    The major conservation groups do have lobbyists. How effective they are, as compared to cattle lobbyists, I don’t know.

    Brian, I agree that Grijalva is very good. But will he give up his chairmanship and Congressional seat for a place in the Administration? Judging from the mess left by the past administration, it could be very challenging.

    Jim, It is good to see that somebody is working on the bison issue. It is rather difficult to do effective work when you are 500 miles south of the problems. I spoke to my local rep for Colorado Environmental Coalition about the bison. He agreed with me that we are just too far away to be effective. Perhaps an email network might be set up so that a number of us may participate. I know that I would.


  16. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Well, Rick, that’s a good idea (email network) – not just a news list like BFC has but something of a communication network of concerned and allied groups. We were talking last night at our meeting about trying to set up a conference of allies sometime in the fall and that making sure we build a good communications network would be one of the main aims of such a meeting (at least from our standpoint).

    We do have our local listserve that has people on it from outside the local area, but I do think we need something else. However, if you want to stay in touch, you are more than welcome to join it (info on our Web site). Still, we need something like what you are talking about, and I think we are in a position to begin working on something like that – so that the various autonomous groups could share information and also build coalitions around other campaigns when necessary.

  17. Catbestland Avatar

    Jim and Rick,
    You might want to contact Bill Patterson of the Western Colorado Congress, 249-1978. He is very interested in the plight of the bison. I spoke with him at length on the issue of wolves and he brought up the subject of bison. He is in a position to get the messege out to members of his organization and I believe he would.

  18. Catbestland Avatar

    Sorry, I forgot to put in the area code, 970-249-1978. I would be happy to take any information to them when you have a plan.

  19. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Thanks – that’s great info. I’m already passing it along to my group.

  20. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Positive leverage is certainly good to have. I’ve also had in my mind the idea of negative political capital and its ability to leverage positive results. Allow me to elaborate :

    Let’s say a Democratic committee chairman who has pull holds position out of a particular contested district adjacent/within forest lands. Let’s further posit that the Blue Ribbon Coalition is somewhat organized in that and/or adjacent districts. Now, that Democratic committee chairman, or another who is vested in the first’s hold of chairmanship, has the power to affect change with regard to bison management.

    Would a relatively small conservation organization – agile and willing to agitate – be able to leverage the political capital necessary to change bison management by say — quietly and behind the scenes show the committee chairman all the necessary legal depositions and filings challenging ORV use on the forest adjacent to said committee chairman’s district ?

    Would threat of a lawsuit that has the ability to galvanize the chairman’s political opponents in his contested district move said chairman to affect bison management with the promise of shelving the suit ?

    Just a thought.

  21. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Just a follow up, we’ve called Bill and left a message – hopefully, we’ll get in touch.

  22. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    I’m sure this will be posted, but Montana has just lost it’s brucellosis-free status. On KBZK, they were sure to make sure everyone understood that the meat is perfectly safe. Of course, they reported the stupidity that it will take a long time for them to rule out whether it was bison. Ha – everyone knows there are no bison in the Paradise Valley. They get killed long before them – even those handful of bison that almost made it to Dome Mountain didn’t get nearly that far.

    See for one of many articles.


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