Kempthorne announces federal bison initiative

This is a surprise, for sure. What does it mean?

Kempthorne announces federal bison initiative. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

It seems to me that on the basis of what JB and others have commented here, that this plan (assuming it to be real) could withstand a petition for putting the bison on the endangered or threatened species list.

More news on this announcement. Bush Adminstration Proposes 2nd Interagency Group for Bison. ENS. “Bison conservationists are not impressed. . . “

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Here is Kempthorne’s announcement.

Secretary Kempthorne Launches Bison Conservation Initiative

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced an initiative that will work with state, tribal and agricultural interests to strengthen bison conservation efforts to help this iconic species recover and thrive.

“One of the classic symbols of the American frontier is the image of vast herds of bison grazing on the western plains,” Kempthorne said. “Americans today still find inspiration in bison ranging freely on the landscape, as Yellowstone National Park demonstrates.”

“While the days of millions of free-roaming bison are gone,” Kempthorne noted, “our initiative acknowledges the important role of bison on the landscape, in tribal culture and in our national heritage and will work in partnerships to sustain a strong and well-coordinated conservation effort throughout this country, throughout this century.”

There are more than 500,000 plains bison (bison bison) in North America, most privately owned, in herds of less than 1,000 that are fenced within relatively small areas. There are also 4,000 woods bison, a different subspecies, free-roaming in Canada. Interior now manages almost 7,000 bison in seven national wildlife refuges and five national parks.

To address the health and genetic composition of the Department’s bison herds, the initiative proposes several specific actions to better manage and integrate bison populations on select Interior lands. To promote cooperative conservation in bison management, Interior will strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones with states, Native American tribes, landowners, agricultural interests, conservationists and others interested in bison health and recovery.

States have management responsibility for most of the bison within their boundaries and bison have a central role in many Native American cultures. Agricultural groups, both landowners and those with public land leases, have significant interests and involvement with bison management and a number of conservation groups are dedicated to bison and other wildlife improvements. The governments of Canada and Mexico also have important roles to play in bison conservation.

Where there is strong local support, partnerships could permit small bison herds to recreate their natural role in areas where they are not now found. Such arrangements may help support the restoration or maintenance of other native species and habitats. The herds could also become important tourist attractions.

The initiative will operate through an interagency working group to coordinate management and science needs and activities related to Interior’s bison herds and to carry out cooperative efforts with other parties. The group has representatives of Interior agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and a tribal liaison from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as representatives of states within whose borders bison are found.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which plays a major role in bison disease issues, and the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense, which are major public land managing agencies, have been invited to participate as well.

The Working Group is charged with several specific actions, including these key efforts:

Retaining the genetic integrity of Interior’s bison herds and maximizing their genetic diversity by implementing recommendations of the Department-sponsored bison genetics workshop held earlier this year;

Involving tribal bison experts in he Department’s activities, and assisting with tribal bison initiatives;

Convening a bison disease workshop in fiscal year 2009 to develop guidelines and protocols for addressing diseases affecting bison and bison conservation efforts;

Seeking bison conservation projects that involve partnership efforts;

Increasing environmental education efforts on bison by actively seeking partners to showcase Interior lands with small bison herds, and seek to work with zoos to accomplish these objectives in areas where there are no Interior bison herds.



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  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    It is not clear to me just how this “initiative” would allow DOI to legally, rationally, and scientifically reject an ESA petition for Yellowstone bison. The genetic damage has already been done and the minimal management actions suggested by this news release are grossly inadequate to mitigate that damage. I see little here, for example, to designate adequate critical habitat to allow bison to range freely during all seasons of the year, which is a fundamental necessity.

    I see this initiative as mostly fraudulent. One reason for this assessment is the proposal to hold a bison disease workshop next year. As things now stand, disease (presumably brucellosis) is not a threat to bison survival. What is a threat to bison survival is livestock industry politics that is driving the yearly slaughter of bison that has placed bison into another genetic bottleneck and the denial of winter range to bison.

    Have I missed something? Just what is happening to forestall a successful ESA petition?

  2. JB Avatar


    I think Interior realizes that a real listing petition is inevitable, and they’re putting on a show for the court. It’s the flat tailed horned lizard all over again (where Interior argued they didn’t need to list the lizard because of a hastily put in place conservation agreement). I didn’t work before, and I doubt it will work now. If the bison is not in danger of extinction in a “significant portion of its range” then this phrase is meaningless.

  3. salle Avatar


    I don’t know that you’ve missed anything from reading your comment.

    It is all about the shift of power from the ranching industry to what now is becoming a sort of “downtownUSA” where you can’t tell when you’ve left one community and entered the next except for the signs. Those finding that they have to share the land now aren’t taking the news very well and this is what you get when they have enough money to support their politicians…

  4. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    JB and Salle

    Thanks for your comments. It appears that we’re agreed that this proposed initiative is fluff.

    General discussion among bison conservationists is that an ESA petition to list the Yellowstone bison population as a DPS is the way to go. There has been some disagreement on this blog about a DPS approach in favor of listing bison in North America, but given that we have only two “pure” (unsullied by cattle genes) bison herds in the country–Yellowstone and Henry Mountain–and given that the Yellowstone population is under such genetic stress from the unrestrained yearly slaughters, we would likely have greater success of court support of our petition (once the FWS turned it down) by precisely targeting the petition for Yellowstone bison. Just how are the thousands of bison in this country that have cattle genes–mostly commercial herds–going to qualify for listing? Most of the “conservation herds” also have this problem. We have to focus on the pure herds. And in any case, it is Yellowstone bison that are under the most serious threat of any conservation herd in the country, thanks to the Montana livestock industry and APHIS and the absurd IBMP.

    I hope that we can get a petition written and submitted by mid-year 2009. Considerable work has already been done; for example, last year we submitted an emergency petition to the National Park Service to stop the slaughter, based largely on genetic information that is already available. (Of course, the NPS turned that petition down). Information developed by YNP scientists and already briefed to the so-called IBMP “partners” is already suggesting that we are facing serious genetic problems as a consequence of last year’s slaughter, and it is truly going to be hard for the government to argue otherwise when its own scientists are beginning to sound the alarm, if only so quietly.

    I sincerely hope that the conservation community can support this particular approach to protect the Yellowstone bison. We may not get a better or another chance.


  5. Overlander Avatar

    This winter could be real bad. I don’t think we’ll see Obama step forward to halt the slaughter and undercut his Democratic ally in the Montana statehouse.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I agree. After reading all the news about what is going on, I think the Kempthorne initiative is cover for another big winter slaughter.

    Obama will be way late on this, without people in place in USDA and DOI until winter is over.

    I stil can’t figure out Schweitzer on this issue except last year the Montana Stockgrowers cleaned his clock when he wanted to divide Montana into two zones regarding brucellosis. Soon the state lost its brucellosis free status, but it looks like the Stockgrowers will not be punished by anyone.

  7. David Avatar

    Maybe I’m just really naive, but wouldn’t this money be better spent on a program to assess genetic purity and disease carrying of “strays” so that we can relocate genetically pure bison to areas with less-than-pure herds? It seems to me, with so many Native American tribes trying to start their own herds which would carry immense cultural significance, we can’t afford to waste true remnant bison on slaughter. I feel we owe it to not only our grandchildren, but to the living great great grandchildren of the tribes we deprived of their cultural mainstay.

    But I have never seen this concept in print. Am I missing something??

  8. Jon Way Avatar

    To me, this quote is unacceptable: “While the days of millions of free-roaming bison are gone”.
    There is no reason why we can’t have free-roaming bison in quite a few areas even outside our parks. Ecologically and biologically it wouldn’t be an issue or difficult to do, only politically would it obviously be difficult.

  9. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Ostensibly your concept is the purpose of the IBMP quarantine program, but far too few animals are involved and in a sense the quarantine facilities are nothing more thanbison feedgrounds, and one can’t call these healthy animals, even if they are certified “brucellosis-free.” Nor are social groups sustained–quarantined animals were/are all juveniles.

    Also, the program makes no effort to assess the genetic status of bison held captive in the program, thus we don’t know what impact their removal from the Yellowstone bison population will have on Yellowstone bison. You’d think this would be a primary concern of Yellowstone National Park, but it isn’t. The program is poorly thought out and not well managed–after all, it’s managed under the aegis of APHIS and the capitulatory Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

    The quarantine program needs needs to be scrapped, along with the IBMP, and a new, scientifically based program developed that protects what little genetic diversity Yellowstone bison now have while at the same time getting wild, genetically pure bison back on the land, primarily on Indian reservations, where they should go first.

    It can be done; however, the livestock industry will have none of it.

    Supposedly, brucellosis-free bison from the IBMP quarantine program are ready to be made available to “qualified” takers, and several Tribes of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative have filed requests for those bison. I do not know the status of these requests but as yet I’ve heard no decision on the fate of these bison. There’s no valid reason for a decision to take so long.

    In short, we need to realize that the true purpose of the IBMP, including the quarantine program, is control of bison for the benefit of the cattle industry, which means no free-roaming bison anwhere outside the Park, not repopulating parts of the West and the Great Plains. This is one reason why an ESA listing is the best approach we can take. We have to bypass, to the degree possible, the oligarchic politics of current bison mismanagement.


  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    You’re right Robert. The comments of director Jeff Hagener of Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks illustrates their devotion to the livestock industry’s views.

    FWP’s Hagener: Brucellosis is a problem for all, not just wildlife. Great Falls Tribune.

  11. Salle Avatar

    “To address the health and genetic composition of the Department’s bison herds,”

    There’s a LOT of alarming language in this document. Like the phrase above, just when did these bison come the under the ownership of the DOI?

    And, the only genetically clear population on bison bison IS the population in Yellowstone, the privately owned herds have been inter-bred with cattle for about a century now.

    And, in my educated opinion, wildlife is no longer wild when it becomes caged for management, vaccinated, and/or fed artificially.

  12. JB Avatar

    “To me, this quote is unacceptable: “While the days of millions of free-roaming bison are gone”.”

    I couldn’t agree more!


    It’s not that I disagree that listing the Yellowstone herd as a DPS isn’t a viable option, it certainly is; and it would be a marked improvement! However, I worry that if we list the bison only in Yellowstone we will likely never see it listed anywhere else. Just to be clear, I would not advocate protections for hybrid animals. Rather, I would argue that reintroduction of genetically pure animals should be undertaken in areas with suitable habitat. It’s a mute point, as this scenario is extremely unlikely. However, one can dream…

  13. Salle Avatar


    I share that dream for the bison, wolves and a number of species. It’s how we can ensure our own health. One concern is the genetic purity criteria, though.

  14. Jon Way Avatar

    JB and Salle,
    I agree with your views too. We have black bears here in the east practically living in suburbs. Why can’t we have herds of bison free-ranging in many areas out west….

  15. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    To be sure, I would like to say I fully support any effort to highlight the importance of buffalo…. or any other species, for that matter.

    I do believe, however, that we need to keep looking back to our own species for guidance in any preservation or restoration project.

    Specifically, I think of Hitler’s guidelines for determining Aryan White Nordic race superiority. In the thread above one could easily insert “bison” for “Aryan” and come up with the same conclusions of prejudice. The only difference from Hitler’s” experts, is today “modern science” uses supposedly superior techniques for identifying “purity”. Just remember this all inclusive test, one that is to decide who goes to the gas chambers or who is put in SS breeding homes, looks only for 12 or so markers out of the many identifying what makes up a “pure” species. That is how the WWFund’s scientists explained to me how they chose “genetically pure bison” to stock their American Prairie Foundation lands in Montana. These lucky Aryan’s with the common 12 indicators come from Wind Cave Nat. Park.

    A sample test of Tom Brokaw’s herd, part of which he wanted to donate to the American Serengeti cause, came back with 3 out of the 12 tested as polluted with cattle genes. Upon asking, “what if it just so happened these 3, as part of the 35 to be donated, by the luck of the draw, came back with no marker cattle genes? I was told the herd then would have been accepted. The thing is this Brokaw herd all had common beginning from a ranch in N. Montana, and in the 8 years it was increasing to 135 animals on Tom’s land it was a closed herd.

    I ask, “Where did the supplemented Yellowstone bison come from?” the private ranches. Does anyone justifying Yellowstone endangered species status for bison want to put all their cards on the table with this supposed genetic purity only to find out still untested markers show cattle genes? What do you have to fall back on?

    Also, what happens when “migrating” pure bison meet up with potentially impure bison outside the Park and they mix together? There is a ranch north of Yellowstone that is considering purchasing some of my Tall Grass Bison’s social order herd. Yes, big fences all around but some day that probably won’t be enough. What do the genetic purists do then? Depopulate Yellowstone and start all over? What if the some nefarious elements in the Montana livestock community purposely place “impure” bison on lands next to Yellowstone, whether it is W. Yellowstone or Gardiner? What, I do ask, do you do then? The outcome, if one puts every argument on Yellowstone purity, goes out the window. What happened with the illegal dumping of Lake trout in Yellowstone Lake comes to mind.

    Genetic purity is not the way to go folks. There are a lot better arguments out there for saving Yellowstone’s bison and none has to deal with Hitler’s superior race attitudes. Bison are not freak shows and they don’t come from alien planets. Think of what got all species to the point of what they are today and the answers become clear. I hate to drag this all up repeatedly but extended family order is what is needed to maintain viability of bison. Fracture the families as what is now happening and there is no increase in genetic diversity no matter what the population density!!!

  16. salle Avatar

    I have to agree with Mr. Jackson’s concerns on genetics. It’s the same issue with wolf population in the region, too small a gene pool for sustained populations.

    We can’t put things back the way it was exactly, like Humpty Dumpty, once the yolks breaks, that’s pretty much it. You might be able to put much of it back but you can never put it all back or turn back the clocks on an event, the damage has been done.

    Bob probably has the best solution I’ve heard on this issue in quite some time.

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I want to thank Bob Jackson for his observations.

    From the standpoint of ecology, it is the behavior of the animal that counts. As far as we can tell, bison with a small amount of cattle genes behave — have the same effects on the land — as bison that are “pure.”

    The same is true of the restored wolves. While I think the reintroduced wolves to Idaho and Yellowstone are genetically almost the same as those that were present, let’s say in the year 1800, the wolves in the Great Lakes are not. In that area, there has been an introgression of coyote genes. This is now well demonstrated, but the wolf population of the Great Lakes behaves the same way as the wolves elsewhere, with the only differences due to being in a different geographic area.

    Genetic change occurs with or without the presence of humans. It has been demonstrated that wolves of 20,000 years ago were substantially different from the wolves of hundreds of years ago or today in terms of their behavior. Could they be restored somehow, those ice age wolves of North American would not be the functional equivalents of wolves today.

    There is to some degree a question of one’s values here, but to me, it has always been the fit between the animal and a particular ecological niche.

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar

    the difference between hitler’s “aryan” and the genetically “pure” bison is hubris. the values judgements that are being assumed using the analogy of the parallels between the two are premised on anthropocentrism and ethnocentrism. that is to say – the difference, and what makes this analogy unfair IMO – is that hitler believed himself to know better than the natural order of things – he sought to engineer.

    i’ll speak for myself – but i do not believe that – in my opinion – i have witnessed the same wish to impose characteristic “purity” coming from bison advocates who cite absence of cattle genes as a valuable attribute of particular herds.

    speaking as, among other things, a wildlife advocate who puts his energy into solutions that preserve/restore ecological systems more than single species advocacy, i recognize “a” (not “THE”) value of “wild” – and understand, at least in part, “wild” to be the absence of anthropogenic influence. there’s value in sitting back and and experiencing the humbling awe of wild creation. i do however recognize that with many wildlife issues – that ‘purism’ is not possible – and in such instances, the best we might do is to preserve these values to the best degree possible.

    i do not intend, nor do i believe myself to need to project the “superior” value – at a moral level – of genetic purity over “teleology” (as perhaps described via the importance of ecological niche). i can say that there is something valuable about a herd of bison that have not been changed by the human influence without necessarily assigning greater overall value to genetic purity over teleological/niche characteristic. and i will say that, in my opinion, all “values” i assign various attributes of what constitutes “wild” are greatly diminished when their behavior is modified via fencing, aggressive “management” and other means. to say that bison without cattle genes is “valuable” is not saying that bison with cattle genes are not valuable.

    another important difference between hitler’s motive and bison advocates’ motive is that the bison for all that we know now have not been anthropogenically altered carry genetic makeups that once lost – we can never get back. we can say right now that teleology/ecological niche or family order is more important than complete absence of human influence, but there is a value and responsibility associated with preserving such that future generations have at least the same opportunity to judge for themselves as we have now – i.e. precautionary principle – because as much as we believe ourselves to know now, it’s likely they’ll have a greater base of knowledge, or at least the potential for such, than we have right now – and in any event, that we are fortunate enough to have bison perhaps without influenced genetic makeup AND familial relationships having this exchange of ideas is reason enough that we have an obligation to extend that decision into the future.

    perhaps i am wrong – but the argument that genetic “purists” – as has been framed – are depriving anyone else the moral or pragmatic authority to take their own ideas to the next level is just not the case. protecting genetically un-altered bison in Yellowstone does not preclude protection of bison with cattle genes social structure elsewhere. the bottom line is that the law will be the same when making both arguments.

    bob jackson asks :

    I ask, “Where did the supplemented Yellowstone bison come from?” the private ranches. Does anyone justifying Yellowstone endangered species status for bison want to put all their cards on the table with this supposed genetic purity only to find out still untested markers show cattle genes? What do you have to fall back on?

    respectfully, i don’t believe that making the genetic argument ‘puts all the cards on the table’ for bison. there is absolutely no reason why other arguments could not – and should not – be made concurrently should the situation you presuppose take place and even if it doesn’t. there are many ‘values’ that advocates can push for using more than one legal and scientific argument. in fact, pursuing more than one might not be that bad an idea – but the bottom line right now isn’t that there are too many angles being pursued – it’s that there aren’t any that have been completed – that’s the problem.

    What do you have to fall back on?

    any other argument that’s been made. if the social/family structure argument has biological and legal merit – preserving bison’s genetic make-up in Yellowstone will not subject that argument to a different biological or legal standard. there is no reason why FWS ought not be forced to recognize both when considering ESA restoration strategies.

    ultimately – i agree with ralph’s idea that it’s the ecological niche that’s important – which is why, from my perspective drawing on his example of wolves, it is not enough to restore wolves to public landscapes over-run with livestock. nor is it ecologically honest to suggest that co-existence between wolves and livestock is appropriate given what we know of the importance of the ‘trophic cascade’ to that niche. deterring wolves from altering ungulate behavior (i.e. via chase & depredation) – one important mechanism of the trophic cascade – sort of undermines the whole point.

    the same is true with bison – unless we can soften Livestock’s hold of the public lands surrounding yellowstone – agency will continue to find itself mired in attempts to placate – fences will remain – and bison will remain subservient, deprived their ecologically important behavior to roam.

  19. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Is there really much difference between what you say, Brian, and what Bob Jackson says, except that it always provokes controversy when “Hitler” is invoked? Wildlife advocates, IMO, are not like Hitler, but some wildlife advocates do stress the purity of genetics over the beneficial functions of an animal in the ecological system.

    Both of you want to see free roaming bison, and bison that are not subservient to cattle operations or damaged by the effects of cattle be they bison genetically pure or have some cattle genes.

  20. JB Avatar


    You beat me to the punch. It seems like not too long ago that we were arguing about the legitimacy of comparing state fish and game agencies (or maybe it was Wildlife Services) to Hitler. These analogies never work for me, for reasons I’ve already explained.

    Being a pragmatist, I think what’s more important is what is actually possible. I’m not sure if the ESA would necessarily exclude the listing of for non-genetically pure bison? It is unclear to me whether an animal that is technically a hybrid would still qualify under the ESA’s definition of a species. However, I would note that even if they were unlistable, genetically “unpure” bison could still be protected under the “similarity of appearance” provision, which allows Interior to “treat any species as an endangered species or threatened
    species..if he finds that…such species so closely resembles in appearance…a species which has been listed…that enforcement personnel would have substantial difficulty in attempting to differentiate between the listed and unlisted species.”

    The bison case seems to fit this nicely!

  21. buffalorunner Avatar


    I think there is a gross mis-understanding here regarding genetic hybridization issues…comparing admixture between two races of a species and socio-political implications of racial purity (e.g. humans, we are all one species!) is much different than hybridization between two DIFFERENT species such as cattle and bison. There are fitness consequences from this sort of hybridization and downstream ecological effects can result from the loss of co-adapted genes complexes that have evolved in the native species (bison) over thousands of years! This is why conservation biologists aim to conserve and restore genetically unaltered native species.

    I recommend that everyone who is responding to this blog read the following paper before submiitting your next comment on this issue:

    “The problems with hybrids: Setting conservation guidelines”
    Allendorf et al. 2001, TRENDS in Ecology an Evolution, 16 (11): pps. 613-622.

    Please everyone, lets refrain from putting the very same people who want to conserve wild non-hybridized bison in the same category as a monster such as Hitler. It is highly offensive, inflammatory, and completely inappropriate!

  22. buffalorunner Avatar

    One more thing…hybrids should only be considered for ESA protection is when there are NO MORE of the native species left. The USFWS will not consider listing hybridized bison populations for protection as long as there are non-hybrid populations that still exist within the original range of the species…YNP bison are an excellent candidate for listing as a DPS under the ESA in this regard!

  23. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I would like to second Buffalo Runner’s comments above. However, there are some more things to say.

    1) I do not understand why Bob Jackson has this unfortunate penchant to bring up the Nazi/genetic purity argument whenever genetics is discussed. Jackson’s argument is specious and does not reflect much understanding of either history or science, especially genetics.

    The race-hatred of the Nazis and other extreme right wing groups actually had/has nothing to do with genetic heritage, but cultural/ethnic/superficial physical characteristics that were easily targeted in propaganda to create an “Us-them” politics of hatred, oppression, and genocide.

    Genetics, as a science, has nothing to do with race-hatred but the very building blocks of a species’ biology and ecology. Genetics is the mirror of a species ecological niche and function.

    The science of human genetics has done tremendous service for racial understanding and equality, primarily by demonstrating that we are all Africans by genetic heritage and are all related to each other through a hundred thousand years and more of mixing and matching from global human migrations. I highly recommend Stephen Oppenheimer’s book, The Real Eve, which demonstrates how fundamentally alike we all are.

    And since Jackson’s genetic purity argument seems to come up only when I make a comment about bison genetics, I can say I personally find his comments way out of bounds and wholly irrelevant, and I’d appreciate his dropping them.

    2) I have no idea whom Ralph has in mind when he says “some wildlife advocates do stress the purity of genetics over the beneficial functions of an animal in the ecological system.” I certainly don’t do this and never have, and I don’t know anyone associated with bison conservation who does. Above, I was making an argument tailored to the use of the ESA to get bison out from under the thumb of the livestock industry and treat bison as wild animals, not livestock . Quite frankly, Ralph’s comment sets up a strawman that is so transparent that I’m surprised that some people on this blog have bought into it. No one, and I mean no one, is claiming that genetic issues supersede the need to reestablish the ecological role of bison. My word, just what do you think we are doing when we are constantly harping on bison habitat and migration?

    When we are talking genetics and its role in an ESA petition to list “pure” bison as a DPS, as Buffalo Runner states above we are basing our argument on the unfortunate hybridization of two completely different species, cattle and bison, that separated evolutionarily from each other at least 4 million years ago and have become significantly different from each other biologically, ecologically, and even behaviorially. When discussing bison genetics and the need to protect “pure” bison, we are really discussing the adaptation of bison, particularly Yellowstone bison, to a particular ecological niche, a particular bioregion as it were, and protecting that adaptation. Genetic “purity” is actually not relevant at all to the discussion. It’s the specific adaptation of bison, as expressed and demonstrated in a precise quantitative way in genetics, that’s important.

    In short, we are actually talking about preserving the genetic diversity of bison–the adaptation of different populations of bison to different ecosystems. In this case, we are talking about protecting YELLOWSTONE bison.

    (For those who want to learn more about the complex field of conservation genetics, I recommend Fred Allendorf and Gordon Luikart’s book Conservation and the Genetics of Populations, Blackwell, 2006).

    Furthermore, as a technical legal matter, we cannot argue for the protection of bison as a T&E species when they are hybrids, unless, as Buffalo Runner mentions, there are no more unhybridized bison. Were it proven that Yellowstone bison did have cattle genes, we would have no chance of getting bison on the list, and we would lose the truly only chance we have to get the ranchers and livestock industry out of bison management. This point seems to me to be self-evident and I am surprised that people on this blog don’t seem to see it.

    As for basing an ESA argument on Jackson’s “extended family structure”argument, I’ll point out that, as intuitively appealing as the argument is, there technically isn’t much scientific evidence for it. Perhaps Jackson could write and submit his findings to a scientific peer-reviewed journal that would give the argument some traction in court.

    3) As for the presence of domestic bison in the Greater Yellowstone, which Jackson brings up above, that is a matter of managing the problem of game ranching, which most wildlife ecologists agree is a serious threat to wild species. I support the elimination of game ranching and game ranches where wild counterparts exist, or at a minimum a requirement for strict separation of wild and domestic animals. This applies to domestic bison.

    In fact, I regard ranched domestic bison as a serious threat to wild bison, not only biologically, but ecologically, because as livestock they take up valuable wild bison range and would further restrict the movement of wild bison to protect “private property.” It’d be just like the problem we have with cattle. Domestic bison makes the problem worse.

    This is a management issue, as well as a philosophical issue. Wild bison, as wild-life, are different from their domestic cousins because they evolved in large herds that have different effects at different ecological scales. Domestic bison have lost the ecological functions and impacts of very large herds. I know Jackson disagrees with this, but if his perspective that “wildness” doesn’t matter becomes dominant, then we might as well abandon all thought of wildlife conservation, and consign ourselves to livestock style management of “wildlife” as the Europeans and Texans do.

    4) Finally, I’ve not noticed that anyone on this thread has actually offered a practical, workable strategy for the protection of Yellowstone bison. Those of us working on the ESA angle have thought long and hard about the problem, and have come to believe that the ESA route is the best option, given current and likely political conditions, focusing on the genetic fragility of the two recognized sub populations in the Park. The strongest scientific evidence we have is from genetics and getting even stronger (see YNP biologist Rick Wallen’s powerpoint presentation at That doesn’t mean that we have abandoned all other strategies or concerns; for those who don’t know just how complex the conservation strategy for bison is, check out the Buffalo Field Campaign or the Gallatin Wildlife Association websites.

    In closing, I find some of the above comments generally too narrow in conception and lacking true understanding of the complex scope of the problems and issues at stake. Any conservation strategy for bison will necessarily have be complex with many sub-strategies, but such a strategy also has to rely on critical paths in argumentation and fact. For bison, that critical path is genetics presented in the context of the ESA. Like it or not.


  24. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Robert, I ask you to try and twist your thinking to one of abstract processes. The comparison to Hitler is solely based on anyone’s attitude of superiority. I believe if anyone thinks we as homo sapiens are superior to any or all other species on earth then we become blind to the understanding those species.

    As for commenting on those who advocate genetic purity, when you have made an earlier comment I have to say I never even noted who the folks were commenting on this before I wrote my thread. I may afterwards but not before I get my thoughts together. Part of this is on purpose. Maybe it was all those years in Yellowstone where I saw a structure basically dysfunctional, and thus those in it, but I could not and still do not bond with anyone to get leverage or collaborative strength of persuasion. You, being from the military, should know how destructive it was when gangs of personnel stuck to the same logic and “facts” so strength of numbers became superior to rational thought.

    Now if I was part of evolutionary functional “bull groups I could have been a part of…or other related associations then I would be all for this kind of bonding.

    In Yellowstone’s backcountry, the Mecca for all horsemen, I never considered myself as one of these folks. And I have probably ridden more miles in the mountains than most anyone else in this country. But at the same time I never got hurt once from a horse and I never saddle sored any stock I was responsible for…ever.

    The same lack of bonding goes for those with environmental concerns, a group with thought processes I have most affinity towards. I don’t bond with any of the people. I was given some mighty fine awards from groups such as GYC and Jackson Hole Alliance…and very much cherish these awards but I never chummed with them.

    My thought process won’t allow it if I am to look at life from my own perspective.

    As for family order bison and its credibility why not come to Rapid City the 17th and 18th of this month. I am giving a presentation at the American Bison Society conference. It is called “An Economic and Ecological Symbiotic Relationship…Finally!!” Lots of your scientists will be there. Even R. Wallen and Glenn Plumb presenting….. and American Prairie Foundation and Wind Cave bison biologist (a place where they have crack whore buffalo). Ought to be quite some fireworks. The genetic bison guru himself, James Derr, the one whose “findings” you use to justify “purity” will be there also. Of course, those unscientific Indians, the same ones I co present with once in awhile, will be there. Maybe there should be a peer review to see if they are credible.

    And as for WILD when associated with “awe”, I think it comes from the same tank as superstition and magic. Now “nature” as it relates to “wild” and trying to understand it…that’s another thing. Enough for now.

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Among other things, Robert Hoskins wrote:

    2) I have no idea whom Ralph has in mind when he says “some wildlife advocates do stress the purity of genetics over the beneficial functions of an animal in the ecological system.” I certainly don’t do this and never have, and I don’t know anyone associated with bison conservation who does
    – – –

    Robert, I did not have you in mind or anyone on the blog in particular, although such comments have been made by the variety of people who have commented.

    As for those interested in wildlife and endangered species as a whole, the question of genetic purity of a species or sub-species comes up time after time. Although Bob Jackson’s original comment was about bison, my followup on his concept was general, probably with an emphasis on the “purity” of various canids. Ralph Maughan

  26. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Most amazing answer, one that has nothing to do with the points I made. As I recall, the topic of discussion was the role of genetics in the conservation of bison, not the ontological status of the term “genetic purity” or the moral status of your individual perceptions vis a vis those of the scientific community or your skill in managing horses in the backcountry.

    Indeed, there are problems with Derr’s work, mainly from a lack of adequate sample size and the fact that Derr can’t tolerate factual or theoretical criticism of his work. This is being rectified in on-going research at the University of Montana by one of those “unscientific Indians” to whom you refer.

    I can’t make the ABS meeting as I have a long-standing appointment with the VA that I can’t afford to cancel. I’m sure I’ll hear about the fireworks and the casualties. I’ll watch the video on YouTube. Where should I send flowers?



    Canids are canids and bison are bison, and the twain shall meet only on the fields of predation. The genetic issues with the two species are completely different.


  27. buffalorunner Avatar

    Mr. Jackson…you have finally gone beyond the pale in your comments!! How can anyone take you seriously when you use terms such as “crack whore buffalo”?!! Honestly…do you really consider this to be honest, intellectual discourse?

    This kind of reckless pontificating does not benefit bison conservation in the least!

    AND…How dare you assume that “Indians” are not scientific?! You are not our savior, we can speak for ourselves on the issue of bison conservation and with much eloquence. Trust me, none of us would ever use the term “crack whore” to refer to any group of bison. How disrespectful! We know better than that.

    you may be in for a quite ansurprise at that conference when you run into Native Americans who would never consider co-presenting with you and a few of them might be scientists themselves.

    If you are only planning to speak at this conference to generate fireworks and draw attention to your ill-contrived theories, this will not benefit the bison you claim to love and admire.

    Piece of advice here Jackson…go read a few books and peer-reviewed papers on conservation genetics…better yet put in 5-7 years to get a Ph.D. in that discipline. Until then, stick to ranch management and telling stories about your big adventures in the back country. You appear to be quite an expert in those areas.

  28. Jeff Avatar

    Buffalorunner, I think you missed Bob’s saracasm when he referenced “unscientific” indians being present with all the “official” biologists. Bob’s perspective and that of many natives is more on the social-spiritual level rather than through the lens of the traditional scientific community. If I am reading Bob’s comments correctly he is using self depracating humor when stating that he and the other unscientific folks will be viewed with some skepticism from the “peer reviewed” community.
    One a side note would the GTNP Bison be protected under the ESA? Weren’t they released from a pen up in Moran a few years back? What about the YNP bison that have bred into the herd?

  29. buffalorunner Avatar


    Behind the self deprecating sarcasm and humor is a flawed stereotype of Native people as uneducated and unscientific. What is wrong with his comments is the inherent assumption is that Native Americans are generally unscientific and therefore not part of the scientific community of bison conservation. And, I think it is rather presumptuous to assume that we share the same perspectives on bison conservation as Mr. Jackson.

    And please don’t even try to tell us what lens we view bison conservation through. Only we can speak for ourselves.

    On that note…why don’t we try to get this conversation back to the scientific issues of bison conservation, the ESA, and the important role of conservation genetics in these issues.

    Re your question on GTNP bison:
    The GTNP bison were founded with 20 bison from YNP in 1948. In 1963, when brucellosis was discovered, the population was reduced to 9 calves & yearlings. They were supplemented with 12 adult bison from Theodore Roosevelt NP in 1964, where there significant evidence of cattle genes in the population. Therefore, the GTNP bison cannot be considered for protection under the ESA

  30. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    You are right on with your assessment of what I meant. As for the Indians, it is their knowledge of what these bison herds were composed of…and recorded by Whitemen…, family groups that I used to form up my original thoughts on how to apply this to management today. The White buffalo hunters also knew this fact. It is how they were able to make all those stands. They would write of making a stand of the great grandmothers, mothers, aunts and brothers and sisters. The horror of all happening around them is why dependents and loved ones stayed to be killed, not because they were stupid animals.

    The last ones to get it our scientists. If they can not see it when studying them then one has to assume there are mental blockages. That is where “superiority” comes into play. When it comes to applied science this “flaw” I feel this is the number one limiting factor in bad assessment findings. Dale Lott, bless his soul, never got it and he grew up on the Bison Range, got his PHD in bison, taught the stuff at Calf Davis and wrote a couple books on it before his death. Tom Mchugh, another PHD in bison and a person I get many facts from his book, Time of the Buffalo, never got it. Yellowstone’s main operations biolgist, PHD Glenn Plumb, studied his bison at Wind Cave. When he was in attendance in a multiagency and Indian tribe meeting in Bozeman put on by Utah State University and organized by me (initial arguments for a fed grant proposal to study family social order in Yellowstone’s bison) he said we don’t even know anything of the words you are using (power groups, satellite spin off groups etc.) let alone have any idea bison are family groups. The Park expressed a lot of reservations in having a lot of students (Indian students from their 2 year college programs and those going on to 4 year schools would have been half the folks on the ground. The Native American Masters and PHD’s associated in biology and communications and filming were also to be a part of Utah State’s study.) “poking” around in Yellowstone. The Park argued at this meeting they did not have enough housing for 18-20 students and leaders. We said we could obtain housing out of the Park (buffalo field campaign offered their facilities for the summers). It went on and on with excuses by the Park. As one who knew all the Parks excuses beforehand with scientists wanting to study in Yellowstone all doubts were more than adequately answered.

    The Park then resorted to discrete affilitated contacts to try and sqash this study. In some cases they thought it was important enough to go directly to the source. The GYC, an non profit always sueing them, was case in point. They called them timmediately, the very morning after the meeting to give the reason of possible too much development in Yellowstone. This was how they were to get them to not endorse the proposal. It didn’t work. All this was while the Park was officially endorsing and putting their signature on the dotted line saying they wanted this project. They had no other political choice with so many Native Americans involved. Once the proposal went to Washington the same politicing started . In the end this proposal still came within a breath of being a reality on the ground.

    I point all this out to say there have been a lot of attempts to “scientifically” prove through traditional channels. In the family social order case a major hang up is biologists and their associated scientists bull groups who want to reinvent it for their own “discovery. This is the motive of the Park Service staff and why they are now putting indebted researchers in there to skirt around with preliminary genetic and behavioral studies. The only problem is none of the principle Park biologists know the core reasons for family order. Thus bad science is worse than no science. The individual science findings will have value but the Park will not know how to apply it on the ground.

    More on why Wind Cave has Crack Whore herds later. Gotta go.

  31. buffalorunner Avatar


    Your rhetoric smacks of paternalism. You sir, are neither our savior nor our spokesman on the issue of bison conservation and research.

    We have scientists from our own tribal communities who are capable of conducting sound scientific inquiry while incorporating cultural perspectives. And they have been leading cuttting edge bison research projects in the parks with their own Native crews.

    The tribes will be directly involved with the DOI bison conservation working group and they will play a significant role. They will be able to express both their cultural perspectives and scientific ideas regarding the future of bison management. After all, we were and still are the original bison “experts”. Under our “management”, prior to Euro-American encroachement, bison populations flourished in numbers ranging from 30-60 million.

    And please stop using the term “Crack Whore” to refer to any group of bison. It is extremely offensive and disrespectful, and there is no justification that can mitigate the use of this term. You are seriously jeopardizing your Megalomaniacal role as the “Bison Guru”…

  32. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    buffalo runner

    I think I understand your sensitivities to anything involving bison. I also think I understand why you say Indians can well take care of any studies on their own. Whether it is you or me both have to have a lot of pride to carry on in face of adversity.

    That being said, in order to carry on research where the Indian two year colleges are involved in a study like this they, from a govt. grant perspective, have to hook up with a four year school to get the $75,000 per school matching or outright funds. Utah State and myself presented this proposal to the annual Intertribal bison coop mmeting for their input before ever thinking of presenting to the “white” community. They were all for it and gave lots of input. We then presented to the Indian College conference in Billings. Some of “your” PHD’s were to be a part of this study because of this proposal. The Indian college presidents fully wanted to be involved and endorsed any of their professors to take the time to be a part of this study. Folks from four tribes and Indian colleges were at the govt. meeting in Bozeman.

    As for the crack whore herd I imagine you have some not so nice discriptions of people you know or organizations you do not agree with. I do not put buffalo, people or the Pope on a pedestal. To not give discriptions of a herd that people canunderstand, I feel is not conveying to the fullest.

    And as for Indian tribes getting pure strains, can you see the parallel in making that same basis for determining what Indian is pure? A lot of Indians in the upper mid west have french blood in them from the fur trapper days. Should they then be expelled from the tribal rolls? To me it is a slap in the face to these tribes when bison are offered for these reasons. And if the tribes wanting these bisonn for that reason of purity then I think they need to look a bit deeper into what the implications are. This offer from Whites is what I would term real Paternalism.

  33. David Avatar

    Okay, a step back from the heated debate… I would like to ask this question from a more layman’s point-of-view:

    If Bison are endangered, then doesn’t it follow that something, ANYTHING should be done with them besides slaughtering them for leaving the protection of the park?

    And if a lack of hybridization is required for protection under the ESA, doesn’t it follow that these Bison should be the first up for starter herds on tribal lands and elsewhere? (…Of course preserving familial groups as feasible. We already know from failed reintroductions of other species that you can tame the instincts out of the beast.)

    But… would protection under the ESA make this type of REAL preservation a reality?!? What do we need to do to get the NEW administration to stop calling this pandering to the livestock industry “conservation”?!?

  34. David Avatar

    One last thing: Ralph, I’m grateful for this site (and all you posters), as I find these discussions very educational. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. This kind of discourse is hard to find on the East Coast.

  35. buffalorunner Avatar


    I agree that there has to be a better solution than slaughtering the last wild, non-hybridized bison herd in the US. The YNP bison population can make the most valuable genetic contribution to ecological restoration of bison on tribal lands and elsewhere.


    It seems that you continue to confuse intraspecific mixing of races within a single species (humans) with interspecific hybridization between species (cattle and bison).

    Here’s an example that might help: If you breed a persian cat with a siamese cat, the offspring are still cats. They are just mixed-breed cats. When two humans of different races mate, their offspring are still humans, just mixed race humans. No value judgements here.

    However, if you breed a domestic cat with a puma, the offspring are neither cats nor pumas. They are hybrids. If a human mated with a chimp, what would the offfspring be?Hybrids!

    So, if you breed cattle with bison, their offspring are neither cattle or bison. They are hybrids! OR as some have called them…Cattalo or Beefalo.

    It is a well established concept in conservation biology and genetics that interspecific hybridization of exotic species with locally adapted native species may result in the dispruption and replacement of genes and gene complexes that have co-evolved within the local environment, and thus decreased survival and reproduction (fitness) may result in genomic extinction of the native species. This is the very threat that bison face now with widespread evidence of hybridization with cattle among most bison populations.

    Here are the primary threats to bison conservation:

    1) Loss of genetic diversity due to population bottlenecks and existence in small isolated populations
    2) Hybridization with cattle, possible genomic extinction.
    3) Loss, destruction, and fragmentation of habitat. Bison are ecologically extinct from >90% of their former range.
    4) Domestication by the private bison industry (>95% of bison reside on private ranches). Selective breeding for specific characteristics to meet market demands.
    5) Introduced exotic diseases such as brucellosis, malignant catarrhal fever, tubreculosis, prion diseases, etc.

    Ecological restoration of bison is the one solution that may help bison persist into the future, but genetically viable source bison populations are needed for this effort. The YNP and Henry Mountains herds are the best candidates becuse there has been no evidence or suspicion of cattle genes in these populations. These popualtions should be targeted for ESA listing!

    Finally, blood quantums and tribal membership are quite painful issues we face in our tribal communities and there is NO parallel between these issues and interspeciec hybridization…and guess what? The tribes involved with bison conservation have educated themselves as to the biological differences between these issues and come to terms with addressing them as separate matters. No correlation there for us.

  36. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    It appears that Buffalo Runner has brought needed insight and knowledge into the issues raised by the genetic status of bison re: their conservation and restoration. But I’d like to go ahead and answer David’s other questions:

    1) Well, not just anything is preferable to slaughter. We need to understand the actual threat to Yellowstone bison: the livestock industry. Specifically, the problem of the livestock industry with bison is that bison are a threat not the health of Montana cattle, but a threat to the control over land use and wildlife management the industry wields for its own pecuniary benefit as a long-standing political oligarchy. In dealing with the conservation and protection of Yellowstone bison, we thus have to recognize our primary goal is to destroy the power of the livestock industry to control land use and wildlife management–in this case, the power of the livestock industry to prevent bison from migrating into Montana and occupying necessary winter range through hazing, slaughter, and quarantine.

    Unfortunately, political approaches have failed. For example, legislation introduced in Congress to protect bison has been sabotaged not only by the livestock industry, but by the National Wildlife Federation. Legislation introduced in the Montana legislature to shift management authority over bison from the Department of Livestock to Fish Wildlife and Parks has been sabotaged not only by the livestock industry, but by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Nor has advocacy made much headway with bringing political pressure to bear to prevent the mismanagement of bison. The closest we’ve gotten is a favorable report on the IBMP from the government accounting office (GAO). Consequently, it appears the only practical route open to us to truly protect bison is the law, and the best legal route is the Endangered Species Act.

    2) By all means, unhybridized Yellowstone bison should be the animals transferred to the Tribes as part of a large scale restoration effort in the Great Plains and elsewhere in the West where bison were native. But it should be done respectfully and humanely; the current quarantine program under the IBMP is neither. Under the IBMP quarantine, calves are separated from their families and essentially placed in unsanitary feedlots and subjected to constant manipulation by the agencies over a period of years to make sure they are “brucellosis-free,” management which includes careless and sometimes brutal treatment that injures the animals, sometimes severely. For photos and videos of the maltreatment of quarantined bison, see the Buffalo Field Campaign website.

    It is my view, and the view of many others, that the IBMP must be scrapped in toto, including the quarantine program. Once this is done, a more respectful and humane program can be put into place that selects and transfers bison to the Tribes.

    3) What is needed to get the new administration to back off the IBMP? Once again, I believe legal action is the only remedy. Although I am deeply pleased that Barack Obama will be the next president of the USA, he has not shown much interest or expertise in western natural resource issues, and he said in a campaign stop in Montana this summer that he would listen to western governors’ advice on such issues. Given that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has shown no leadership or courage on the bison issue, it is not likely that he will advise taking on the livestock industry, which is what it would take to protect bison. So we’ll get no help from him. Of course, a lot depends upon whom Obama appoints as the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture. But we have to realize that agri-business holds tremendous power in the this country and essentially holds wildlife conservation and management and land use policy in this country hostage. This is why I think politics cannot protect bison (or wolves, grizzly bears, salmon, etc.), at least without legal underpinning. Therefore, we have to force the issue into the courts using the most powerful wildlife conservation legislation available, the Endangered Species Act. And as I’ve argued above and as Buffalo Runner demonstrates, genetics provides the strongest scientific justification for placing Yellowstone bison on the T&E list. That is why genetics is so important, aside from its general scientific importance.

    I hope these paragraphs answer your questions.


  37. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Just a note on your comment.

    The Obama Administration may not listen as much to Montana’s Democratic governor as we thought because Montana fell to McCain. Gov. Schweitzer’s good intentions, if he has them, will once again be thwarted by failure to control the Montana legislature.

    On the other hand, Arizona’s governor Janet Napolitano looks to have much influence with President-elect Obama. Perhaps she will become his A-G and maybe push Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva as Secretary of Interior.

  38. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    To finish up on a couple of points that I “tactfully” wove in the above comments but apparently either didn’t get noticed or remained on one plane of thinking.

    First paternalism is determined by intent. Thus, one has to understand why the govt. wants to give the Indian tribes these “pure” bison. If there is little mention of support systems put in place to maintain these animals then one has to doubt the legitimacy of their actions. No infrastructure of plan (hardscape), then one has to look at the attitude of the giver to see if something worse than paternalism is at play here.

    The tribes applied for a 2 million dollar grant a number of years ago in order to maintain the Yellowstone bison the govt. then was toying with in giving to the tribes. It didn’t create any discussions. Today that cost would be over 10 million with more info out there that predicts what is needed to maintain those herds.

    And that is just the start. Much more moola will be needed in the years to come. There will be no way to monitor and enforce purity unless there is a paid oversight group set up. Then there needs to be supplemental funds going toward profit marketing of these animals if these herds are to be weaned from the doles.

    By example, the Intertribal Bison Cooperative can not make this work with any; I say ANY, of their tribe’s herds. And they get a lot of financial support from our govt. to do so. They can’t even fill the order the Smithsonian gave them for meat. They quietly substitute by buying meat from conventional bison meatpacking plants where 95% of the animals that come to the kill floor are feedlotted. Of course, this packer gives them the worst off flavor meat that comes off the line. This is no different than what the Indian agents gave the tribes in poor beef when the bison were all shot out 150 years ago.

    I know this happens because I have been given some samples out of the Intertribal freezers. It is bought from the “White Guys” and an Intertribal label is stuck on. I know because they have asked if they can buy some of my meat instead of what they are getting. The tribes can’t get it together to provide meat from herds they already have problems getting sold in conventional marketing channels. How can they maintain genetically pure herds in the long run unless a LOT of infrastructure supporting funds is allocated from congress? It’s not going to happen folks.

    If the govt. isn’t going to give tribes these funds then intent goes well beyond paternalism. Are these bison thought of as going to a dumping ground and the tribes are the ones they choose for this “waste facility”.

    Two, I believe all genetic restoration in wildlife today is encased in symptom research and management. It shows in your assessment as listed in both your, Robert and buffalo runners, threads. What good does it do with all the logic to study, or try to list in an ESA, or depend on PHD’s studies if none of them have an understanding of what makes genetic “purity” happens in the first place? I listed the PHD’s in my previous post, buffalo runner, because you seem to hold in such high regard this authenticates truth and fact. None of these experts got it when it comes to understanding herd animals because they were part of a system that didn’t allow them to. Therefore PHD is actually a hindrance in most cases when it comes to applied sciences.

    As for the “layman” (Robert’s?) perspective, my thoughts are it is none of this “wild”, “awe” or the “way it was before Whiteman” mystique … where lots of bountiful lands and beautiful ecological panoramas made “purity” possible. One has to break it down into smaller segments…find out why an Adam and Eve “bottleneck” turned into genetic vitality.

    I ask how did wolves and coyote’s pre-Whiteman maintain genetic purity. They occupied the same ranges and still maintained their own “purity”. Then why today do we have coyotes interbreeding with Red wolves?

    Whether it is inbreeding or “hybridizing the answer is species trying to suvive as a species. Species will take care of genetic problems later, but they have to have numbers NOW!! Numbers for what? Numbers to form up into infrastructure, social order and culture.

    Buffalo Runner, if you are an Indian like I gather you are, you should know first hand what happens when a tribe’s infrastructure is broken up. You lose your identity and are lost as part of a larger population. It makes no difference if we are talking race as part of a species or species as part of many species. The principles are the same and the analogies are the same. The tribes I know of, these western tribes, are trying very hard to maintain this cohesiveness, this infrastructure. What happened to most all Eastern tribes? GONE!!

    Another answer by question. What happens when you put ten Indians or any other peoples in a place? What if you increase this to placement of ten thousand Indians? Nothing different for either in terms of genetic vitality if some outside force continually breaks up the order these peoples are trying to establish, whether ten or ten thousand. All one ends up with is genetics of chance. There is none of the “Plan” nature gave us.

    There are givens. Disorder seeks out order whether it is peoples or bison. Thus if coyotes in an area have more order than dysfunctional red wolves transplanted into this area the wolves either will dissolve genetically… or if there is can even be an inkling of order allowed in these wolves, they will try to embyrionically form up and do what it takes to form up survival wise FIRST. Coyote blood allows them to do this. Science’s favorite word, Bottlenecks, to me, has everything to do with order and nothing to do with population densities.

    Example, when cattlemen trailed their dysfunctional longhorns through bison country there was always the problem of some of the cattle running off to join up with those bison herds. Cowboys even quit the outfits to make some money on their own. In what is now Oklahoma a single cowboy could sort out up to two thousand cattle a month. Very good wages there.

    But when the bison herds were broken up into refuge camp remnants some of the best and last bison hunting took place by shooting bison out of cattle herds. There were a lot of recorded complaints of bison getting into their herds and causing trouble.

    On my Tall Grass Bison farm here in Iowa, where social order management is number one, the problem I have is neighbors cattle wanting to get in with my bison herd, not my herds breaking out and getting onto their lands. I have to focus on fence for their cattle, not my herd. This is because my herd has infrastructure and home. They have all the infrastructure in place to say “we are doing fine, we don’t need you”.

    Thus, transfer this knowledge to the ground and one sees any attempt for Yellowstone bison to maintain genetic purity has to be accompanied by every ounce of energy going into understanding social order and infrastructure needs.

    For example, if the bison allowed outside Yellowstone come from shattered Park herds, or allowed to be busted up extended family wise by hunting outside the Park, it spells failure for all of what you, Robert and Buffalo Runner, are trying to accomplish. I don’t care what kind of fence the Tom Miner Basin owners of my social order herds put up. If the Park animals come from what’s left of the Parks torture chambers at Steven’s Creek corrals they will get in with those “as you term “ranch” bison of my origins. If Montana stockmen want to make your gene purity experiment a failure all they have to do is put more dysfunctional bison in one locality than the shattered remnants coming from Yellowstone. If they even understand just a little about infrastructure needs they can also drop off a few cattle gened bison in with a functional Yellowstone herd that have room to expand (niche not filled) and the Yellowstone bison will take these stray bison in order to get new blood in their families.

    Or another scenario. Even if there were no cattle or ranch bison in the Yell. Valley or West Yellowstone area, I ask you Robert and Buffalo Runner, do you think shattered Yellowstone bison will stay around if they are not allowed to structure up(i.e. hunt before home is established)? These will not be animals with the strength of Moses and his people wandering the wilderness for 40 years. They are the Oregon Trail settlers under the worst case scenario, where managers have no thought of oversight of infrastructure needs in start up colonies.

    No, these Yellowstone refuges will seek out order no different than the transplanted red wolves. If there is no niche available in Yellowstone they will range far and wide to find this order. This means inclusion of genes from any animals with order or artificial semblance of order. Hay stacks, supplements and good pastures means the illusion of evolutionary success no different than hot cars or lots of money in our dysfunctional society.

    Enough for now. This has already run on to long. The point I guess I’m trying to make is there is little ability for prediction or cause and effect with present gene emphasis. If “they” don’t know how it works all studies and applications become symptom generated. That is the state of what you base your hopes on. I agree we need to get Yellowstone bison out of agriculture’s hands but besides the thought of setting up preservation “as is” the Dept. of Interior nor their scientists knows little more. The best we can hope is that in their hands time allows science to come to understanding how it all works… before bison become mutants.

  39. buffalorunner Avatar

    Mr. Jackson,

    So now we all know what your true intent is…Putting up a conservation roadblock in the Tom Miner Basin and preventing acquisition of winter range for YNP bison using the sale of hybrid bison from your ranch to a private individual there…oh and you will probably make a nice little profit from that won’t you?

    You obviously don’t give a rip about actual bison conservation…it’s all about your insatiable ego, expanding your ranching business, and building up your bank account.

    Good luck with the Intertribal Bison Cooperative folks at the American Bison Society conference in Rapid City…You just made some “real good” friends with your most recent accusations.

    By the way, the Eastern Tribes have not been exterminated, they are in fact thriving communities…just ask the Lumbee, Eastern Band Cherokee, Creek, Tuscarora, Seminole, Naragansett, Mohawk, Mohegan, Chicksaw, etc.

    Oh and Bob….Please go back on your med’s…Your delusions are showing.

    Meanwhile the rest of us are going to get back to the business of an ESA listing to protect wild, unhybridized bison populations., and work together with agencies and tribes to find workable solutions. With the change in administration (Obama/Biden), I think we can all be more hopeful for the ecological restoration of wild, unhybridized bison to their former landscapes.

  40. David Avatar

    Many thanks to Robert, BuffaloRunner, and Bob for taking the time to carefully respond to my questions in detail. I am learning so much.

    Logical next question, since it seems about the only thing everyone agrees on is that the current harassment and quarantine of bison leaving YNP is too draconian.

    How necessary is it? There’s obviously some differing opinions over the way forward in the face of brucellosis, and over the perception of threat to both domestic and wild herds. Anyone care to share their views on this?

    Bob, I’m intrigued by some of your points. I do take some issue against your comparison of wolves to bison in their relationship to coyotes and cattle respectively. Interspecies hybridization may be a threat to wolves, but through a natural process. I’m afraid comparing this to the situation for bison seems like only a louder argument against allowing grazing leases on BLM lands adjacent to YNP, particularly of hybridized bison!

    One other question: can you show any anecdotal evidence for the lack of familial structure causing failure in any current or past bison reintroduction herds? Perhaps that was the reason for your reference to the wind cave herd?

    Further, if bison were listed under the ESA, and tribes are willing to allot their lands and time in order that they could be stewards of the herds, why SHOULDN’T the government pay for it?? Isn’t that a better use of money than paying subsidies and depredation fees to ranchers (only to have federal agents kill the offending wolves anyways)?

    One more question (SO MANY!): Robert (and all), what are the factors preventing an ESA listing at this time? If a listing is the way forward, what steps need taking to move towards this goal?

  41. JB Avatar


    I can respond (in part) to your last question. In August of 2007 the FWS responded to a petition to list the YNP bison as a distinct population segment (DPS) in a document commonly referred to as a “90-Day Finding.” Three requirements are necessary for the listing of an endangered species as a DPS: (1) the species must be considered distinct/discrete (or separate) from other populations, (2) it must be considered “significant” to the conservation of the species, and (3) it must face at least one of 5 threats specified in the ESA (i.e. it must meet the definition of endangered). These five factors are: (A) Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other manmade or natural factors affecting its continued existence.

    The bison clearly is threatened by factor (A) and possibly (B) and (D) as well. However, because the petitioner specified that the bison should be listed as a DPS the FWS used a recent Memorandum Opinion by the Solicitor for the Department of Interior (the departments top lawyer) to argue that these factors (especially A) did not apply. What was the justification given?

    “The petitioner’s assertion that hazing and killing of bison outside the Park will affect the “quasi-migratory” behavior of the herd, and will result in a restriction of the range is not supported by information available in our files. Bison in YNP attempt to compensate for declining per capita food resources by range expansion (Gates et al. 2005, p. 131). In other words, bison move out of the Park in the winter in search of food, and this pattern has continued since implementation of the Joint Bison Management Plan (discussed in greater detail under Factor D) in 2000 (Clarke et al. 2005, p. 29). Therefore, the available information indicates that control actions have not affected the “quasi-migratory” ranging behavior of the YNP herd.”

    In other words, because they defined the YNP bison’s range as Yellowstone National Park (or its “current” distribution), they treated migration out of the park as “range expansion.” This is an absolute farce, only made possible by (1) the petitioners assertion that the YNP herd is a DPS and (2) the Solicitor’s flawed interpretation of the ESA. Bison once ranged from the Rocky Mountains to East Coast. Movement from the YNP herd into lower elevation lands surrounding the park is not “range expansion” it is reclaiming the land where these bison once roamed and were exterminated by human beings. In other words, the bison’s range is clearly being “curtailed” (factor A) to placate ranchers (factor D).

    In my view, the petition to list the bison as a DPS should be accompanied by a petition to list the bison (entire species) throughout its historic range. The FWS should be forced to deal both with the YNP herd and the undeniable fact that bison have been eliminated from ~99% of their historic range within the U.S. The Solicitor’s Opinion needs to be challenged; the bison is not the only species that has been negatively impacted.


  42. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    As I mentioned above and elsewhere, brucellosis constitutes little biological threat to bison, elk, and cattle populations, especially when compared to fatal diseases. Brucellosis is not fatal in any of these species, although it is fatal to moose.

    Brucellosis causes abortions in all three species, but the way it works is that a female is 50% likely to abort her first calf, and then the likelihood goes down as the female produces more calves throughout her life. In populations where the disease is endemic, there is good reason that individuals in the population show some degree of immunity. Certainly, even though the disease affects short term individual production, it doesn’t have a large scale population impact, as we see with constantly increasing bison and elk populations in the Greater Yellowstone.

    Clinically, it appears to be a nastier disease for humans; brucellosis used to be a public health problem when raw milk was on the menu, but the pasteurization of milk solved that problem. Now, the only people at risk of catching brucellosis are those who work with animals and/or the disease, such as veterinarians, techs, biologists, etc.

    The IBMP is predicated on the premise that brucellosis is a serious disease and a serious economic threat to the livestock industry. Neither premise is true. When both Idaho and Wyoming lost their brucellosis free status recently, economic costs were minimal, and in Wyoming, the state legislature subsidized those costs to the tune of $1.6 million. Also, in Wyoming in 2005, prices for Wyoming cattle actually increased. You might like to read my column in New West on the subject, The True Cost of Brucellosis,

    Since the threat of hybridization in wild species is well understood in wildlife ecology and conservation biology, when Bob Jackson denies it is a threat I think it’s incumbent on him to offer a strong argument with extensive supporting data in favor of his position. He has not yet done so.

    The Tribes have created an organization called the InterTribal Bison Cooperative to advocate and coordinate a number of issues involving bison conservation and management, including the transfer of wild bison to reservations. Indeed, the transfer of wild bison to reservations is a priority, given the strong cultural and spiritual as well as practical historical relationships of Native peoples and bison. In short, they have a strong desire for the transfer of wild bison. And yes, the feds should pay for it.

    The primary obstacles to listing the Yellowstone bison as a DPS are both political and scientific. The politics is pretty clear; the livestock industry and quite frankly many so-called “moderate” conservation groups that have aligned themselves with livestock producers for various reasons would oppose such a listing; they prefer collaborative processes that quite frankly have failed miserably to protect wildlife when pursued, although these agreements look good on paper. The same livestock politics would place considerable pressure on the FWS, even under Obama’s administration, to deny the petition. So, as with so many species, it would be necessary to take the FWS to court to force a listing.

    Scientifically, given the controversy over bison and the need to have absolutely rock-solid data to support listing, I would prefer that an ongoing genetics study at the University of Montana be completed first, but it probably won’t be completed until the spring of 2010. So, given the pressure of time, it is likely that we’ll have to submit the petition with what we have by this summer and then submit the results of the University of Montana study during the 12 month Agency assessment period.

    In closing, I believe the reasons for listing Yellowstone bison as a DPS are unimpeachable both legally and scientifically, but the sticking point is the politics–the need to take the livestock industry head on.


  43. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    I’ll address in chronological order. Number 1..I need to start referring to buffalo runner as “buffaloed”. No one else would get wound up as fast and pick out the details that he preceives as affronts. He must be buffaloed when he thinks anyone at the ITBC would ever confide in me information that would cast them in a bad light. That is not unless there is an “higher” motive…which is in this case spread the word, govt. sponsors are alarmed and funds are restored so programs such as the ITBC meat sales can be legit and thus help the tribes. Last year was real scary for existence of ITBC. All funds were to be stopped and the office looked at closure. These folks had to spread the word what elimination of funding would do to them. They knew I had access to channels they didn’t have. I spread the word just like they were doing. You, buffalo are alarmed and thus you spread the outcry. If it is directed at me so be it. In the end the result is the same, the govt. restores the money the Intertribal should have not have had to take crisis mangement on.

  44. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    JB’s detailed discussion of the previous petition, which was a handwritten document from a single individual submitted in the late 90s, to list bison is quite accurate, although I would add factor E as another threat, in that the current management plan for Yellowstone bison, the IBMP, is the immediate mechanism of endangerment, primarily through its sanction of large scale, indiscriminate slaughter.

    We do not have the capability to produce an accompanying petition to list bison throughout their historic range. Also, further genetic work would need to be done to have a chance of getting bison elsewhere listed. Also, we have the problem of hybridization in some of the herds. Finally, I strongly suspect that the various groups involved in bison restoration projects throughout the Great Plains, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Prairie Foundation, would support it. They’ve based their restoration strategy in part on collaboration with local communities, that is, local ranching or farming communities that took the Buffalo Commons idea rather hard. I don’t think these groups would touch an ESA petition. much less undertake to submit one.

    In any case, the immediate threat is to Yellowstone bison. If anyone wants to take on the task of getting other conservation herds listed, and has the resources to do it, have at it. I don’t disagree with the idea.


  45. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    Number two: buffaloed, You need to do a bit more research on where private herds are located. As of three years ago there was one near Cinnabar and another on the East River road. Both in the Yellowstone Valley and of course both well within the immediate area of your so called hybridization concerns. The one on the West side of the Valley I was asked advice from once in awhile. We both supplied bison meat to Gardiner facilities. The one on the East side I know little about except one could see them from the road. They weren’t the govt. herds. Both herds would be considered to be in a lot more “delicate” fencing than I have here in Iowa. What are you going to do about these herds buffaloed? And what about the bison herds over Ennis way should”pure” buffalo go there..and they will go over the top, I guarentee you? Bulls from Yellowstone are already doing it. What then? Should we ban private bison ranching also down Ashton way? Some good NBA members there. Migratory Yellowstone bison means there will be cross pollenization. What then? Yellowstone bison are too valuable to be banned to the cesspool some time in the future just because they become “unpure” because folks put them on a pedestal in the first place. More as time permits. P.S. I have no idea if my bison are pure or not and I would never allow them to be subjected to testing for both philosophical and physical trauma reasons.

  46. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Boy, I love the term “My Bison” sounds so personal!

  47. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    My referral to Crack Whores comes from Utah State Universities need to find functional bison herds for study. Our first choice,Yellowstone, was giving a hard time of it (like they do for any “outside” researcher, and Wind Cave was just the oppisite. They wanted the Indian students, the students would be closer to homes and the Park said they’d find housing.

    All that was left was checking out their herd…and we so wanted to find functional herds. Alas, it wasn’t to be so. Besides all the herd reductions based on youth being allocated to tribes and non profits park personnel would go out and randomly shoot the old ones that wouldn’t come to the corrals. Thus Wind Cave had very dysfunctional herds. If one has a hard time understanding this impact just think of a human tribe having no control over their outcome (think Hitler and Jews in concentration camps where there was hopelessness, roles are absent and disruptive behavior is rampant). My psychology professor in college said even when a family recognizes it is dysfunctional (abuse) it takes 3-4 generations to become fully functional again. There was no way this Hallowed National park herd would be functional in 12-15 years even if they left this animals to their own formation needs.

    But the real kicker was the deficiency of mineral and what it caused these animals to do around tourists. These bison were the road side bears of Yellowstone. All the adults would first run to any vehicle, sniff the radiator and the ground around it and then go for the windows. The young ones would be hanging back 100 yards away walking nervously back and forth wanting mommy to come back. Crack whore moms and the family it affected is what first came to mind.

    The road pull outs is where the herds stayed and the ground around for a quarter mile was denuded of vegetation (yes, I know what prairie dog towns look like). As one traveled the back roads one would get glimpes of one or two cows care taking ten or twelve young. The Wind Cave bison herds I saw were a cross of what one sees on tribal reservations and urban slums. If this description bothers you buffaloed then think what you are doing even worse by putting “pure” young bison on tribal lands. These would be the same as taking 2-3 year old kids from their parents and dumping them all together with no outside contact with other humans… ever. No communication skills learned, no nothing. But yes you do preserve purity. I think behind it all you just want some rememberance of a life from better times no different than Robert wishes. But I ask please don’t use bison as your howdy doody.

    But what was worse was these bison being

  48. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    sorry the rest of the story didn’t “print out”. Will add more later.

  49. Brian Ertz Avatar

    i see one of the chief difficulties being habitat designation – perhaps even more so than litigating FWS into a corner on initial listing. especially with all of the auxiliary interests/ideas being thrown around. what will relocation mean for habitat designation ?

    Robert – perhaps you might answer a question that i have yet to find: where’s the petition ?

  50. Buffaloed Avatar

    While I agree wholeheartedly with Robert Hoskins, JB, Brian Ertz, and buffalorunner, I have not commented until now.

    I do not believe that Bob Jackson is someone to argue with. Not to be insulting but it is like arguing with someone at a rural tavern about wolves. He feels he knows more about this issue than everyone else, he constantly puts down people with opposing opinions, and he doesn’t want to engage in a conversation but rather wants to dominate a conversation. He only wants to be “right”.

    I strongly disagree that Bob Jackson is a bison expert. He’s a self proclaimed “expert” that doesn’t want to engage in real conversation. He attacks the biologists who have the most experience and have used science and good judgement because they have come to a different conclusion than he has.

    Ask Bob about Mary Meagher and he will go ballistic.

  51. Buffaloed Avatar

    Case in point Bob Jackson says this:
    “I point all this out to say there have been a lot of attempts to “scientifically” prove through traditional channels. In the family social order case a major hang up is biologists and their associated scientists bull groups who want to reinvent it for their own “discovery.”

    Science does not seek to “prove” anything. Science is a discussion and is properly used to disprove an idea. If something cannot be disproven then it is generally accepted as fact until new information is found to contradict it.

    Bob Jackson seems to want to prove his idea and gets defensive when people disagree with him. Kind of reminds me of someone who’s dog bit a reporter yesterday.

  52. David Avatar

    I’m amazed to have such well written responses, from both sides… Thank you.

    Does anyone have any counter-arguments for the level of dysfunction in the wind cave herd? It seems logical enough. It also seems easily remedied by intelligent and careful selection of animals to be removed from YNP for starter herds, and a review of methods of treatment of the animals. No? And where does the mineral deficiency come from?

    RH, I have a question on your assessment of the standpoint of groups like the American Prairie Foundation. Several people have commented that one of the biggest needs is for habitat. APF is obviously pursuing this as the priority, and going about it through the local perspective, rather than the legal route.

    I’m a big fan of their goal! A prairie park the size of Adirondack park would be a wonderful thing for this nation. What do people think of the “build it and they will come” approach? If we provide a place for the government to ‘dump’ the otherwise slaughtered bison, will they do it? What stands in the way? Brucellosis? Do the politics of ranching affect this effort the same as the listing approach? Or have they addressed these issues by working on the ground with the local communities? Will this goal be realized in the absence of an ESA listing?

    The article on Brucellosis is informative, but begs the question: What do we need to do to change our laws to reflect the true cost of the disease? How can we loosen gov’t restrictions on infected herds (if in fact they should be loosened) to facilitate the transplant and humane treatment of the migratory bison?

    FYI, I ask these questions so that I can channel the passion I feel for this subject in a constructive direction. If I ever learn enough on this subject to wield a sword and fight for a cause, I want it to be an intrepid, rather than reactionary, weapon. I would like the support I offer these causes to be a path that is a powerful way forward. I appreciate all contributors to my education.

  53. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I’ll let others deal with Wind Cave, since I’ve never been there, except to add that when wild animals suffer from mineral deficiencies, it’s because they have been prevented from migrating to salt licks the location of which once existed in their memories but are now forgotten. Bison at Wind Cave aren’t allowed to wander.

    I will say the “crack whore” reference is inappropriate; bison need minerals for proper physiological functioning–the need for it is not an addiction. I challenge anyone to say that there is a physiological need for crack.

    As far as the APF’s local route to bison restoration, in my view and experience, and given the strong bias of agri-culture against anything wild, I’m afraid that basing bison restoration on collaboration with local communities will mean that we’ll never have anything other than bison behind fences. Remember the local response to the Buffalo Commons, which came out of a demographic analysis of how the Great Plains was bleeding people out and a suggestion of what to do with the increasingly empty land? The Poppers damn near got lynched.

    When and where has any agricultural society in history expressed any true respect and tolerance for wild things and lands? America has come the closest, but we are now losing it.

    This is probably the crux of the matter–will bison be permitted to be wild and free-roaming, or will they be managed like livestock, placed upon the path toward domestication and commodification? The latter path is well advanced with bison, unfortunately.

    Yes, we do need habitat, but when it is predicated on private rather than public lands, on private property rather than common property, we find that the natural greed of the human primate is magnified by the desire for individual profit rather than the common weal, and nature is turned away from evolution toward commodification. We are now in the Anthropocene, remember?

    Wildlife has never benefited from the drive for profit; it benefits from an ethical and even sacred perspective. Aldo Leopold also shared this insight; I suggest you read my essay, Outstretched Palms, which you can find on New West at, which describes how Leopold shifted from an economic perspective to an ethical perspective on wildlife conservation.

    In short, the APF approach is fundamentally an approach of privatization. How do we get to bison as a public trust from that? I’ll let APF explain that. I don’t see it happening.

    Pragmatically, we need laws that emphasize that wildlife are a public trust, not a source of private profit. We need laws that acknowledge that wildlife are the common heritage of all of us, not private property or commodities for the market. And above all, we need to get the livestock industry out of wildlife management.

    See my essay here on Ralph’s website, The Curious Legal History of the Original Outlaws, for a discussion of the public trust.

    Ultimately, however, I don’t think law is the final answer to protecting wildlife, although I have harped on the ESA for bison for practical reasons. I agree with Leopold–what is needed is a fundamental cultural change in how we relate to wildlife and wildlands. How to get there would take a book. I’m working on it.


  54. David Avatar

    Thanks Robert. You may be right about privatization and commodification being counterproductive to conservation, but I sincerely hope you’re wrong about the APF, and other private enterprises…

    Isn’t the answer to your question about how the bison end up in public trust the conservation easement? While those animals may be fenced, they would roam 3 times the land area of YNP at the park’s completion. Couple this with groups like Y2Y and other wildlife corridor advocacy groups, and could the stage be set for the revolution we are seeking? (I agree it truly is a revolution that is needed, of the individual and the culture. I’ll look forward to your book publishing party!)

    It strikes me that the conservation easement movement in the US today is a direct response to the failings of government (local and federal) in the conservation arena, in their corrupted dealings with businesses and lobbies, and in the legal battles surrounding the ESA, etc. While this may only be 1% of the population, I believe/hope there’s ground to be made in the absence of government, otherwise we’ll be subject to the mindless wavering of single issue voters, kept in perpetual partisan political ping pong, as we have with the roadless rule.

  55. JB Avatar

    Returning to the idea of a petition to list the bison throughout its historical range: I agree with Robert’s final point; the biggest barrier is finding an organization that is willing to litigate. I disagree with Robert about the need for more genetic work. In fact, I think a petition to list the bison (as a species) would be quite simple. All you really need to show is that one of the five factors is present across a significant portion of the bison’s range. I submit that the elimination of bison from roughly 3/4s of the contiguous U.S. (where bison were present before European settlement) must be considered a significant portion of their range. We know there are at least some genetically pure bison, thus we have populations of animals that fit the definition of an endangered species provided in the ESA. No doubt that genetic work would be required to determine which animals/herds were not hybridized, but this could be done post-listing.

    Regardless, no doubt this type of petition would be rejected offhand by FWS, who would cite the Solicitor’s faulty Opinion. In my view the bison presents the perfect opportunity for conservation groups to litigate the SPR issue and dispel the Solicitor’s Opinion. As I said before, it’s a mute point as I do not believe any groups have the courage to litigate the issue.

    – – – –

    Robert: It’s interesting that you brought up the buffalo commons idea. I have seen several articles recently that suggest the idea is now (finally) gaining traction (one was in HCN, but I can’t seem to find it). Anyway, here’s an example:


  56. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    JB and David

    As I have mentioned before, given the heightened controversy over bison, and the recognition that to protect bison we need to take the livestock industry on in a very unequivocal way, the more scientific information we have, especially regarding genetics, the better, because the politics will get ever uglier than they are now. We need an airtight case to move this forward.

    JB, this is strictly a matter of tactics, not strategy or philosophy. Under normal circumstances, I’d say the science is already sufficient. I just don’t believe that it is in this case. I would be quite happy to see bison listed throughout their historical range. I just don’t know who’s going to take it on. We’ve got out hands full here in Yellowstone.

    In any case, we are running out of time. The slaughters of the past winter were devastating, especially to the central herd, and the agencies don’t seem willing to reduce the pressure on bison very much this coming winter. The proposal to allow bison on Horse Butte is far more restrictive than the news reports suggest. We are still studying the draft plan for Horse Butte.

    But we need to act and get the petition filed. I fully agree that the Solicitor’s Opinion you refer to above is garbage. It’s also been used to justify wolf delisting, which, as we’ve seen, has been a farce. The greatest flaw in the Opinion is that the ESA can’t be interpreted to require the restoration of a species to its historical range.

    Strategically, the greatest threat to wildlife and land conservation is privatization and commercialization; these two problems underlie all the others. This is why I place so much emphasis on the public trust and the commons as the foundation of what we do to protect land and wildlife. Thanks for the link. It’s good to see that mid-westerners are starting to realize that the Poppers’ analysis of the demographics of the Great Plains was accurate, and still is.

    Regarding conservation easements, I consider them poor sisters to expanding the commons. Easements, at least in my experience, almost always are written to continue to allow agricultural operations, which almost always conflict with wildlife, whether agriculture is suited to the location or not. (This is a western issue. I don’t know what the case is in the east). Easements are also poorly regulated, and recent scandals related to easements, as with the Nature Conservancy, should give one pause about supporting them wholeheartedly.

    Also, easements are based on the incentives for landowners principle that dates back to Aldo Leopold. As I have argued elsewhere, in my essay Outstretched Palms, available on New West, Leopold rejected the incentives approach because it didn’t work in most cases. My essay explains why. In my own research, I have learned that incentives are incentives only for more incentives. When the incentives stop, or when the opportunity for profit outweighs the incentives, conservation goes out the window. We saw that most recently with the CRP renegades, who wanted out of their CRP contracts to take advantage of price rises in wheat and corn and plant their CRP parcels.

    Here in the West, the one incentive that always comes up with private landowners is hunting licenses that can be sold on the open market. In my view, as I’ve argued elsewhere, this is an attempt to establish private property rights in hunting licenses and by extension, wildlife. It’s part of the neo-feudalism we see more and more in the West.

    I think easements can’t be easily shaken loose from their role in creating neo-feudal estates. We have little enough democracy in the West.

    David, I’m not quite sure what you mean in your second parqagraph. Are you referring to the notorious CUT deal north of the Park? There are many problems with this deal–excessive cost to the public with no benefits to bison or conservation. It most certainly isn’t a public trust easement. Bison numbers will be restricted to a mere 100 and restricted in many other ways that makes a mockery of the goal of wild, free-roaming wildlife. This is no deal, but a financial boondoggle, especially for the CUT. Rather than go through the long laundry list of problems, I’d recommend you read the comments of the Gallatin Wildlife Association on the CUT deal at These comments are excellent.


  57. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Save Bears, It is getting late but to your reply of “my bison” I say, “MY country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty….” or something like that. Maybe you never sang this song, as pridefully written, in grade school. What was your version, “YOUR country tis….”??

  58. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    And buffaloed, Are you the same “buffaloed”, who, in the BFC blog claimed I knew nothing about buffalo because I was stationed in the SE corner of Yellowstone and there were no buffalo there? And I then replied back, to paraphrase, that as part of my duties I also had to patrol Hayden Valley and even spent entire seasons in the Pelican – Mirror Plateau area…that I had spent part of each of 20 + years in those two areas and that I studied those bison while riding patrol in these mts because that was my interest.

    I didn’t say it then, but I will now. I know of no one who has spent as much time in the Pelican- Mirror as I have—unless it was turn of the century poachers…. and I covered whole drainages in that country that had never seen a Whiteman … where Indian camp chipping piles were still two feet high and untouched and wikiup poles were grown into Whitebark pine, where there were no reports. That I discoveried and turned in more Indian camps than all the combined reports to date.

    If that was you why didn’t you respond? Why wait with your apparent seething till now?

    As for your Park biologists, have you identified the people in the Steven’s Creek corral films whipping every bison as they pass under them? Do you recognize the biologists standing in blood at the head gates where bison are breaking their faces against crash gates that have no padding? These are the same ones who you think are experts.

    These are the same ones who either would not show up when higher ups asked them to tour the facilities with me… to show them how facilities and management could be changed to minimize injuries and death …or if they did come …as soon as I gave a master corral design diagram they ran off to have it copied and listened no more. (Like any corral design, it is of no value unless one understands how it works).

    Yes, these are your scientists you depend to give you answers, comfort, sympathy and rub elbows with. These are the same scientists who allowed a reasearcher to kill six buffalo in short time (netting by helicopter in hot summer) before they finally put a stop to it. These are the folks who stupidly darted 2 different bison on the same day and saw each stagger into the Lamar River to drown.

    These are the same bison scientists who argue ..and can not even recognize if it is a two year old female or two year old male. (It was neither). I ask you to review the tapes if you are part of the BFC. See the vets working and the biologists and rangers on the other side of the squeeze. Turn up the volume and listen to what they say. I tell you they are worse than incompetent at these facilities. They are numb to the blood they are walking in and when the arms go through the alleyways to get knocked away by the scared bison, and hats fly off because the rear ends of these bison are hitting the heads of people sticking their heads in these chutes…and you then see the handlers do the very same thing again, when you see holes and crush marks in 3/4 inch plywood where there is only the space of a foot for these animals to be crushed by others… It goes on and on. Do you really think these folks you fall to your knees to are going to back you when it comes time to stick their careers on the line? Their knees are shaking but maybe you don’t see it because you are kissing their feet.

    And as for M. Meagher, she and I rode many miles and stayed in many cabins together. She was one of the few who really got “out there”. She did more for Yellowstone bison than anyone I know of. She knew population densities and she knew a lot about bison, but she didn’t know the key to it was these bison were made of families. Her back ground didn’t allow her to. I think we both continued to think well of each other (I showed her a lot of cabins put up in fur trapper days that had never been seen before)…but I also think she thought I was invading her turf. I understood why and knew in a mans biologist world she had to fight for every inch of ground. The environment in govt. during those days meant there just wasn’t room for any hint of incomplete bison knowledge by a woman.

    Thus, when each of us was paid $500, flight tickets, and room and board to present in New Mexico I think it was a bad day for her. She walked out of my presentation and also was with all due respect strolled in the lobby by the main guy arm in arm. She never spoke to me again.

    Such is life but at the same time one has to understand Yellowstone administration at the same time made her leave her cabin residence of many years, took away her spacious office and assigned her to a closet …and no bigger… of the communications center. Of course, this is no different than what happened to any biologist not in favor. The plant guy came to the administration building one day to find they had thrown all his work stuff into the hallway and locked him out of his office.

    Do you get the drift, buffaloed? It is a vicious, dysfunctional world in Mammoth and just about any biologist not towing the proper line is blackballed from any govt job…forever.

    This is why biologists are numb and don’t fight back when they see what is happening to the animals they are suppose to be studying once they leave these corrals. They become numb…and dumb. Look at the tapes, I ask you. See who the people are. The anguish in these people must be tremendous. It, of course, is not all their fault. I can’t blame any of them, knowing the longer they stay in the Park the more insiduous it becomes. They try to stay sane. They see the head shrinks just like the rangers do to survive.

    No buffaloed, I do not go ballistic over the mention of M. Meagher. I do however feel that way when I see animals treated the way they are. And I have done lots trying to correct it. In little ways I will continue to do so. At the ABS meetings next week in Rapid City. the thrust is social order but there will be mention of how understanding bison allows for better construction of handling facilities.

    Buffaloed, I care little if you or anyone else think I am an expert. There are no or little in papers to substantiate what I see and report on. This is how it is in pioneer studies. I do have the background in the type of academic worlds that folks recognize as credible, however. Also I would like you to point out any papers and research that refutes what I say. All I find out there are personal side notes by these experts who say things like, “all bulls are made for is passing on genetic materials”…Dale Lott, by the way.

    Enough for now for both buffaloed I and II. And for Robert and others into genetics I ask you to look at % confidence levels in the genetic studies to date. See where the levels for the test procedures (machines, mixing chemicals and procedures) are 95% and the amount of cattle genes are in the one to two percent range. This is what I interprete from the ones I have read several years ago. If this confidence level has remained the same this means ones doing these studies has no statistical proof of cattle genes. Is this why James Derr in his power point presentation last year at the ABS conference, even after 500 samples, writes that Yellowstone Bison “PROBABLY do not have cattle genes”? Is that all he can say? Will he be able to get on the stand when it comes time for listing proposals…when he is from a college that gets most of their funding for research from domestic livestock studies…will he be able to look those DOL and APHIS boys in the eye and state Yellowstone bison are free of cattle genes? I don’t know but it needs to be considered before you get to far with allbaskets goingwith this genetic approach. enough

  59. Buffaloed Avatar


    I was at the trap while the tapes were being shot and, yes, what happened there was horrible. The trap sucks and is dangerous to buffalo. It doesn’t need to be improved, it needs to be removed.

    You are correct in pointing out that the people at the trap were not competent to do much of the work but many of them were rangers. None of them wanted to be there and Rick Wallen didn’t appear to participate in of the process, probably because he didn’t want to.

    You are also correct in saying that the Park administration is totally dysfunctional.

    You may also be correct in saying that family groups are very important in the functionality of bison, I believe this as well, but I think you should be very careful about statements like those you refer to in your comment above about buffalo. You apparently told the Board of Livestock that the best way to keep buffalo from leaving the Park is to kill the lead bulls. They did that even though what you said is not true. Over the years we have seen huge family groups come out of the Park on their own without any lead bulls showing them the way.

    You are correct on another point too. “There are no or little in papers to substantiate what I see and report on.” The reasons you state may be correct. I’m sure there is much more we can learn about buffalo but what I understand is that many of the objective observations don’t substantiate what you are claiming.

    Now with regard to the genetic argument, you have speculated that cattle may have bred with buffalo on the range before the mass slaughter and made the argument that cattle left their herds to be with the buffalo because they sought a functional community to be with. I think I am paraphrasing your thoughts correctly. Those are big assumptions.

    To my understanding the hybrids did not come about through natural breeding but through artificial insemination because the buffalo would not breed with the cattle. Maybe someone else can address this as I have not investigated this thoroughly. I’m not a bison expert.

    That being said, there is no evidence that the Yellowstone population of buffalo has any cattle genes. There is ongoing investigation into this and it hasn’t disproved this assertion. This makes the Yellowstone herd extremely important. I would argue that if there were any cattle genes in this population they would appear in a large component of the herd because of the small original size of the herd. The history of this herd is well known and if, as it appears, cattle and buffalo don’t interbreed naturally then these would be genetically pure. If they are not genetically pure then they are the most genetically pure that we have. Yes, this is a big part of the argument but it is far from the only argument. There are many other arguments to be made for protection of the Yellowstone herds under the ESA. One of the largest is that they have continuously lived on these landscapes and provide an ecologically important function. The genetic purity argument doesn’t change this. That being said, the genetic purity is very important and the present management of the Yellowstone herd is having unknown but profound negative impacts on the buffalo regardless of their purity.

    I have many other disagreements with your arguments.

    I am not buffalorunner. That is another person altogether. Ralph does not allow people to post under two identities here.

    My name is Ken Cole, I am on the BoD of the Buffalo Field Campaign, for a time I was on the BoD of the Wolf Recovery Foundation, I used to work for the Idaho Fish and Game as a fisheries technician, now I work for Western Watersheds Project. We have actually met at BFC when you were reviewing the tapes you spoke of and you warned Mike that I shouldn’t be trusted because I worked for the IDFG. Mike and I both had a laugh at that.

    This isn’t an argument I’m trying to “win” as it appears you are trying to do. I can look at this issue with an open mind and I agree with some of the things you say. I disagree with the method you use to put forward your arguments. I think that the Hitler/Aryan comparison is useless and offensive just like comparing some buffalo to “crack whores”. It’s the kind of thing that says more about you than about the issue. What Hitler did was horrible and it shouldn’t be thrown into any argument because it trivializes what he did and there is no comparison here.

  60. Buffaloed Avatar

    Here is the comment I made on the BFC blog:

    I did not say that you know nothing about buffalo I just questioned your qualifications to make the assertions that you have made. I also questioned some of the assertions you have made.

  61. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    Take a closer look at the tapes. See the guy with the beard on the catwalk near the load out chute? See the whip being used on all those animals? Who do you think that might be? As for the guy at the crash gate and all its blood, the same one who ran to get a copy of the corral, he is now the head of the biologist division.

    I do agree the Park biologists did not want to be a part of the corraling operation. But they had a choice, either be a part of it or get less money for their division. They chose the later. Once blood money was on the table the goons who run the corrals humiliated and beat the “nice” rangers and biologists heads against the wall. It is no different than what the rebels make kids do who they are forced to join to join them (in Africa). They make them kill family. The corral boys killed all of Ricks collared bison. do you think that might of had a bit of the humiliating aspect to it?

    And I do not think Ricky wanted that whip. No, but I’m sure they handed it to him and told him what to do with it. He and Tom then both had the personal choice of refusing to carry out these activities. But they did not make the choice you like to think of them as doing and therefore are culpable.

    But they have such empathy don’t they? It is my experience most folks I see acting this way in Yellowstone act that way in these pressure situations because they want to maintain a quasi relationship of “friendship” to keep out of frontal attacks…and potentially being transferred when scapegoats are needed by the Park. Ask them to sign their name to what they say and you will find out the true person.

    As I say, the biologists had a choice and took the blood money. End of story.

    Regarding a “plant” I would hope you are aware there are these folks in your camp. Any group who has record of civil disobedience has them. As a tip, it is someone with access to strategy sessions and someone who dissuades the group to make govt. folks personally accountable. A plant can not go back to their bosses without instilling their rage if someones govt. face is on a bill board on the highway opposite Steven’s Ck Corral …with an adjoining picture of a buffalo with its guts hanging out.

    Maybe make some of those type suggestions and find out who is for or against this type of protest. Also observewho is spending beyond their means (even if it is done only on many travel trips)

    As for me being a ranger I could not rule out any outfitter being a poacher. With your BFC organization there is a PLANT and it can be anyone from the top to the officers. It doesn’t mean BFC has to be paranoid to the point of dysfunction but unless there are people in your organization who want to push issues the plant will never be found out.

    When I had my elk salting, bear protection issue with the Park, my phone was taped and my mail was opened. I guarentee your e mails and phone calls are monitored. Do you agree they are? If so do you let all your volunteers know of this possibility? I would hope so otherwise you are culpable.

    On to bison. With hybridization breeding between like species is not limited to forced interaction between these species (ie ranches) but has all to do with the amount of dysfunction within these populations. Thus, when I told of early cowboys sorting 2000 cattle per month out of bison herds then one knows the cattle had less infrastructure in their herds than the bison did in theirs. But it means the bison herds were under a lot of duress also to accept these cattle into their turf.

    As for breeding I guarantee if those cattle could physically keep up with these stressed bison herds till rut there would be interbreeding. All those fact loaded books of historical rancher- bison places and then lineage for these animals to the Parks don’t come close to telling the real story of all the two species intermingling WITHOUT human involvement. both species, cattle and bison, did cross at that time because infrastructure was low to non existent in these herds. The large last bison herds were refuge camps.

    As for Yellowstone and its introduced Plains Bison I imagine the statement by James Derr of probable lack of interbreeding is based on hunch no different than what anyone, including me, would say.

    And your argument that listing can also be based on these bison living in yellowstone for a long time means little if these animals were not allowed to maintain family infrastructure. I repeat Ecology and amount of time have nothing to do with each other unless that animal is allowed to do what nature allowed them to do. Shattered Yellowstone’s herds now means there is less and less ecological maintenance occurring.

    AS for me being responsible for Montana BOL killing “lead bulls” maybe you ought to think of it as my talking to them allows them some belief bison herds can be contained to specified areas (West Yell.) if SCOUT bulls are eliminated.

    You know very little about bison, my friend. The only bulls that can keep up with cow groups are 4-6 year old bulls. even then it is minimal because it only happens with satellite spin off herds …..where one sees only two young bulls with the cow herd. To eliminate these males means the herd is a thing of the past. This is what happened last fall when the Indians shot the males out of a group like this at W. Yellowstone. The cow herd then rushed hack into the Park to join up with the core family.

    Lead bulls appear weeks before the cow herds. The cows sniff the ground and bull rub spots to follow. Then older guy bulls follow the cow herd a couple weeks later. Scout bulls are another matter. They are the Jim bridgers and Kit Carson’s of America’s history. They appear years before the cow herds. It takes that long because the herd has to know if these guys can make it on a long term basis. Every fall they go and every spring they go back to the homes of their relatives. Eliminate these males and any area of impasse will not be crosed by the cow group.

    You see, Tom, you make the accusation of me being responsible for the death of “lead bull” buffalo BOL hands without even knowing a thing of what makes a lead animal. Better stick to your statement to that effect. Then you won’t find yourself out on that limb. If I remember right, I addressed this at length when I was accused of this by you in the BFC blog. You must want not to think of these things in case it gets in the way of justifying your biases and turf to protect.

    And lastly, which is worse? that 60 million bison were slaughtered or 6 million jews (humans)? To me there is no difference. It was the attitude of superiority that was constant and thus I can make those comparisons as well as crack whores” with equal depth of meaning. If it troubles you and any others on this forum when those associations are made then from my perspective I’d say you need to look a bit closer to the source of why those comparisons trouble you. It may help you and others in understanding bison see your “objective observations” as being just as erroneous as those that claimed the world was flat.

  62. David Avatar

    Robert, I think I understand your argument against easements and about incentives. I’m sure the nitty gritty is far less attractive than the broad stroke descriptions you read on Nature Conservancy and RMEF and the like. I agree that “expanding the commons” is much more altruistic.

    The easement application I was talking about was not CUT, but about what I have read about APF. I am impressed by the initiative of this project. Sometimes you have to give people a taste of what they are missing to get their support.

    I will look into the scandal at Nature Conservancy. I hadn’t seen that.

  63. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    My take on any lands, public or private, held for
    “wildlife” is that the “wild lands” is the only part of that initiative to get preserved. At least that is a positive.

    State and federal managers know little of how wildlife functions and therefore by default the folks who want to exploit (outfitters comes to mind) win out. The area I patrolled for decades, the most remote spot in the lower 48, and designated for the highest of preservation standards with Wilderness label, is under the heaviest of attack, not only the big game, but also the grazing caused by excessive horse use. The only reason it doesn’t look worse is the vertical cliffs and down fall keep people out of some areas.

    As for the Nature Conservancy, I feel they did a lot of good things early on. Some of the lands they now control would be not there for what I call Quasi protection if they hadn’t come to the forefront when they did….But alas the staff got entrenched in donor parties, became disconnected with what was on the ground, and the folks on the ground went “native” when they saw the folks above cared little….and agreements we put in writing for both high fliers and on the ground with managers of domestic operations that “corrupted” the whole intent of what was once a good thing. One now finds Nature Conservancy employees combatively fighting for ranchers to rise up against the likes of the American Prairie Foundation.

    I know because as part of Utah State Universities range science initiative I listened for an hour as a “nice” young woman from Montana Nature Conservancy paraded howdy doody ranchers from the lands near APF wants to acquire… to the mike to plead for their way of life …and stop what APF is supposedly doing to their community by those neighbors selling their lands to APF …and thereby leaving themselves with kids with no neighbor kids to play with.

    The Nature Conservancies answer is to give grazing rights to lands donated to them my well meaning citizens in supposed exchange for conservation practises on ranchers private lands. In theory it works but by seeing what I saw by a bunch of ranching rednecks at this conference there is no way Nature Conservancy managers on the ground are going to be able to put their foot down when times get rough for those ranchers. Compromises will be made to accomodate excessive grazing in drought years because the NC person will think it is better to sustain this rancher over all those other “bad” ranchers.

    So heart wrenching but to see Nature Conservancy area managers to go that native is to see an organization, at least in that part of the country, very dysfunctional.

    So should caring land owners donate their lands to the govt instead? Most don’t because all emphasis by govt. is to exploit those lands mostly for hunting. If the land owner is, lets say a bird watcher, they will get scant support on the ground in the way of staffing from govt folks ….who have little budget or care to highlight someone wanting to donate for non exploitive reasons.

    As for APF I was asked by them to be in charge of a program for teaching the Fort Belnap Indian kids in the “ways of nature”. I could not put this supposed feather in my cap because to do so would be a mockery of everything I believe in regarding bison families, and by extension, everything Indian kids were subjected to in turn of century boarding schools ….by those who felt they were superior to those they were taking away from families.

    You see APF puts yearling and two year old bison in the name of genetic purity onto their lands. These are the boarding schools for bison, the same train of thought Indians saw that took their kids from their homes.

    I pointed this analogy out to APF folks and it went so far over their heads I’m sure there wasn’t a puff of breeze to be felt.
    They had the choice (I met with them before they ever placed bison on their lands, invited them to the Utah State non profit, native American and Fed. meeting…. and explained the reason for putting at least quasi functional multi aged bison on their lands from Wind Cave ….and they chose, instead, animals that have no chance at learning what to eat, how to behave or how to learn a languge. APF put in place the same thing as what would happen if one took two to three year old kids away from their parents, isolated them away from any human contact for life…and expect them to interact in an ecological manner because they were in the “protected American Sarengetti Park”.

    Again, with the blood money offer on the table to me, I explained to them it would be hypocrisy by me to give these Indian kids inspirational teachings while at the same time knowing what I saw on the ground was a slap in the face to all of what had been abused of these Native Americans.

    David this is yor APF. I think the intent of this Park is very good and desperately needed. Even the scientists and promo men with good intent, those in charge of this endeavor were and still are very niave in what it means to change culture of ranching communities. They thought they could give open houses and impress these ranchers that a higher goal was obtainable …without even considering this meant all of what the rancher struggled with all his life was not as impotant. Superior attitude does that to folks. Plus they never considered that the Charley M. Russel managers had gone native and had more bonding with ranchers and cows than with the public they served. All kinds of road blocks have been put up because of this.

    As I said “preservation” of land is happening, much of it by default however. I saw all this from a career in the supposed “purist” of federally protected areas and I saw it from being associated with attitudes and impacts from the private world.

    I would have to say folks should do what they can do to help in any preservation. Just don’t put anything you want to become a part of on the hero pedestal and you will be able to make a greater percentage for the “right choices”.

    Just remember Yellowstone Park was formed because railroad tycoons saw a way to make money. They had to protect their proposed investment and by promoting to congress the natural wonders yellowstone became “protected status”.

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