A Busy Week for Wild Buffalo & Elk

Buffalo Field Campaign update from the field-

  • Gallatin National Forest Approves Horse Butte bison trap, WTF!
  • Montana begins killing elk to appease livestock interests-

Although BFC is on my blogroll (down in the right column of the blog), I haven’t posted one of their “updates from the field” lately. Here is a slightly abridged version. Ralph Maughan

– – – – – – – – – –

Buffalo Field Campaign
Yellowstone Bison
Update from the Field
January 15, 2009

In this issue:
* Update from the Field
* Montana Delegation, Schweitzer, to Ride in Obmama Parade
* Order Your Buffalo Valentines Today!
* Buffalo in the News
* Last Words
* Kill Tally
* Update from the Field

Dear Buffalo Friends,

A study was released this week that determines what we’ve known all along:  the risk of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to cattle is extremely remote.  The study, “Wildlife-Livestock Conflict: the Risk of Pathogen Transmission from Bison to Cattle Outside Yellowstone National Park” was conducted by A. Marm Kilpatrick, Colin M. Gillin, and Peter Daszak, and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.  In summary, the study states, “… We have shown that the quantitative risk of transmission of [brucellosis] …is highly variable in space, time and frequency.  We believe that this variability offers great potential for focused adaptive management efforts that will reduce the costs of brucellosis management, reduce the need for hazing of bison, and maintain very low risk for the cattle industry of Montana.”  You can learn more about the study’s findings under “Buffalo in the News” below.

Nevertheless, livestock interests are running rampant with power in Montana.  This has been an incredible week of war against wildlife, even though the field remains quiet with no wild buffalo migrating out of Yellowstone National Park.

Just yesterday, further catering to cattle interests, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) began killing elk in the name of brucellosis risk management.  Two cow elk that FWP had previously captured and collared were captured again yesterday near Gardiner.  They had tested positive for exposure (not infection) to brucellosis, and were consequently killed after leaving Yellowstone’s boundary.  Likely, these elk carried antibodies that make them resistant to the cattle-borne disease.  Ranchers have been blaming elk for the loss of Montana’s brucellosis-free status, but the tests placing the blame on elk are inconclusive at best.

Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson announced approval for the Montana Department of Livestock’s (DOL) request for a permit to set up the Horse Butte buffalo trap located on Gallatin National Forest lands along Yellowstone’s western boundary.  This permit will be good for the next ten years.  It is alarming that the Forest Service approved the permit, because the public was largely against renewing it, Horse Butte is cattle-free at all times of year, and the Interagency Bison Management Plan agencies recently decided to allow buffalo to have access to Horse Butte until May.  The renewal of this permit is conflict with local sentiment and residents who oppose the DOL’s bison trap, and it is in contradiction to the Forest Service’s role and responsibility in the Interagency Bison Management Plan to “provide habitat for wild bison.”  Supervisor Erickson’s decision is a slap in the face to every member of the public who has long advocated allowing wild bison to occupy the wildlife rich Horse Butte Peninsula.

Buffalo Field Campaign attended the Montana Board of Livestock meetings in Helena on Monday and Tuesday.  During the meeting, the Board approved Montana’s Brucellosis Action Plan, a document that aims to help regain Montana’s coveted brucellosis-free status.  It doesn’t amount to much in the way of ranchers taking responsible action to prevent brucellosis transmissions between cattle and wildlife.  The plan focuses on seven counties within close proximity to Yellowstone National Park.  The plan does not require ranchers to vaccinate against brucellosis, it does not require ranchers to construct game-proof fencing, it does not require ranchers to test aborted cattle fetuses.  The only requirement is for ranchers to test breeding-age, reproductively intact cattle 30 days before they are shipped out of any of these seven counties to other locations.  It is a very flexible, insubstantial plan.  Any costs that are incurred, including testing requirements and fencing, would be paid for by either state or U.S. tax dollars.  The plan is temporary and will dissolve once Montana regains its brucellosis class-free status.  Ranchers who run cattle operations in areas where elk are known to concentrate would still have to undergo some testing requirements.

At the meeting, the Board of Livestock also approved the DOL’s signature on the IBMP’s Adaptive Management Plan.  While buffalo advocates realize that these changes amount to very little on the ground for the buffalo, the cattle industry acts as if they are bending over backwards to appease wildlife interests.  Board member Janice French asked for assurance that these changes were “the end of the road” for wild buffalo and that they would not be allowed to expand their range in the future.   The state vet, Marty Zaluski, gave her that assurance, and further communicated to the board that everything is based on the buffalo’s behavior, and if the buffalo step out of line and trigger management actions, then the whole thing would be revoked by next year.  We hope the DOL will be handing out maps and behavior check-lists to wild buffalo so they understand the human limitations placed upon them.  In our public comments, we reminded the board that this was not the “end of the road” for wild buffalo, but just the beginning of gaining them their right to access their native habitat.

And finally, there is a bill floating through the Montana legislature demanding that an active cattle rancher have a seat on the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission!  Perhaps, then, in all fairness, wildlife advocates should be appointed to the Montana Board of Livestock.

Montana’s cattle industry assumes an amazing sense of entitlement to their self-assumed exclusive (mis)use of the land.  If anything gets in the way, it should be killed.  If any sensible responsibilities cost them an extra dime, then taxpayers should pay for it.  Never forget that we hold the power: every time you or I purchase food, we have a choice whether or not to support this industry.  Make the choice for wild buffalo and elk.

Roam Free!

* Montana Delegation, Schweitzer, to Ride in Obama Parade

We have just learned that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Senator Jon Tester (MT), Senator Max Baucus (MT), and Representative Denny Rehberg (MT) will ride horses in President-elect Barak Obama’s Inaugural parade this coming Tuesday.  They will ride carrying the myth of Montana’s romantic cowboy on their shoulders.  But, these four horsemen carry much more; they carry the future of America’s last wild buffalo population and they have shown them no mercy.  The celebrated Hollywood cowboy is an illusion; the reality is barbed wire fences as far as the eye can see, coupled with dead wolves, coyotes, buffalo and native grasslands.  If Montana’s governor and Congressional delegation are going to participate in a parade that is to celebrate the election of a candidate for change then they too should agree to change the part of America that they govern (Montana) starting with its despicable and disastrous bison management policies.

TAKE ACTION!  If you or anyone you know are going to be present at the Inaugural Parade, please consider creating banners, posters, or signs to highlight the way Montana is treating America’s last wild buffalo!  Montana may celebrate cattle and the cowboy image as part of their recent heritage, but the buffalo is North America’s heritage, preceding the cowboy by thousands of years.  The whole world will be watching the Inauguration.  It is a perfect opportunity to draw attention to Montana’s actions against wild buffalo.  Tell Montana to stop slaughtering our national heritage and let wild buffalo roam free!

* Order Your Buffalo Field Campaign Valentines Today!

Buffalo Field Campaign is once again offering to send the special people in your life a hand-crafted Valentine.  This year’s card (4-1/4″ x 5-1/2″) features two bison peacefully grazing on a snowy landscape, watched over by the Great Buffalo Constellation (embellished with a shiny heart).  The inside sentiment reads:

” ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.’
~Harriet Tubman”

“A gift has been made in your honor by ____________ to help us change the world.  Happy Valentine’s Day!”

The card also includes a few words on our mission.

To view an image of the card, for more information, and to order online, please click here.

The deadline for ordering cards is Friday, February 6.  Please order early!  Your card will be mailed to arrive close to Valentine’s Day.

To order through the mail, please send a check or money order (no cash) to Buffalo Field Campaign/PO Box 957/West Yellowstone, MT 59758.  We must receive your order by Friday Feb 6 and please remember to include the name(s) and address(es) of your Valentine’s recipient(s) and indicate how you would like the card(s) signed.

* Buffalo in the News

Please consider responding to these articles with a Letter to the Editor.  Buffalo-friendly letters that are published win you a FREE BFC t-shirt! For tips and contact info for key papers, please click here or email bfc-media@wildrockies.org.  If your letter is published, send us a link or mail a hard copy to BFC-Media, P.O. Box 957, West Yellowstone, MT  59758, along with your t-shirt size and mailing address.  Write on for the Buffalo!

Elk in the crosshairs
Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Elk removed near Gardiner over disease worries
KXNet.com North Dakota News

Bison capture facility reauthorized
Billings Gazette

Montana releases plan to regain brucellosis-free status
Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Bill would put active rancher on Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission
Helena Independent Record

Study of disease risk suggests ways to avoid slaughter of Yellowstone bison
Science Daily

Study:  Disease risk posed by roaming bison is low

Letter:  Here’s something you can do for the bison
West Yellowstone News

Where the buffalo roamed:  A buffalo hunter looks hard at the history of the dwindling herd
Star Tribune (St. Paul, Minneapolis)

Bison at the edge
Friends of Animals Magazine

* Last Words

“In Wyoming, it’s fair to ask, if brucellosis is such a serious threat to cattle and the industry, then why don’t ranchers support closing the elk feedgrounds?  After all, the feedgrounds are the source of continuing brucellosis infection in Greater Yellowstone wildlife and were the cause of Wyoming losing its brucellosis free status in 2004.  But ranchers absolutely refuse to countenance feedground closure.  Why?  Grass and cattle AUMs.  Feedgrounds prevent elk from migrating to traditional winter range now “reserved” for cattle.  Closing feedgrounds means allowing elk to get to their old winter range, but that would require a radical revision in AUM allocation from cattle to elk.  Ranchers regard AUMs as private property, not a revocable privilege, and actually use AUMs as collateral for loans and other financial instruments; ergo, ranchers demand that the feedgrounds remain open to keep elk off the range. Brucellosis has nothing to do with it.

In Montana, the question is even simpler.  Ask the ranchers, should brucellosis be eradicated from Yellowstone bison, if bison would then be welcome in Montana.  The answer, of course, is no.
Why?  Same reason as in Wyoming.  Grass and AUMs.

In short, here’s the brucellosis fraud narrative: Ranchers and the livestock industry are using the alleged brucellosis problem–control of disease in bison and elk–to cover the actual goal of eliminating competition for forage between wild ungulates and cattle.  That is, the true purpose of “disease” control is “bison and elk” control.”

~ Robert Hoskins, GRAVEL BAR

* Kill Tally

AMERICAN BISON ELIMINATED from the last wild population in the U.S.

2008-2009 Total: 2

2008-2009 Slaughter: 0
2008-2009 Hunt: 1
2008-2009 Quarantine: 0
2008-2009 Shot by Agents: 1

2007-2008 Total: 1,616

Total Since 2000: 3,683*
*includes lethal government action, quarantine, hunts




, , ,



  1. Virginia Avatar

    I think we all need to support the BFC – what other group is truly dedicated to advocating for an animal that is mistreated, misunderstood, and assaulted on so many fronts by so many idiots in the livestock industry?

  2. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    It’ll be really interesting what the hunter advocate groups come out & say about the elk that were “removed” near Gardiner.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    What to you bet the “Friends of the Northern Range Elk” somehow blame it on wolves?

  4. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    I would bet quite a lot actually!
    In certain people’s minds in this area it seems that wolves could be held accountable for things like the Hindenberg disaster, the 1929 stock crash, the designated player rule… etc, etc.

  5. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Well Dan,

    They have a least one option other than Bush to blame!


  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Save Bears,

    I understand.

    Point well taken!

  7. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Well guys, they are already partially blaming wolves for the brucellosis incidents in Montana. The story goes: wolves are forcing brucellosis infected elk onto private property “refuges” where they become a threat to resident cattle. I’ve not yet heard Bob Fanning make this claim, but Paradise Valley ranchers have made it.

    It’s kind of like the claim, “the devil made me do it.”


  8. Salle Avatar

    You KNOW that whatever it is/was, the wolves are to be blamed.

    Kind of like Cheney shooting his buddy in the face, the terrorists made him do it.

  9. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Going along these lines of the wolf to be blamed (though not stated directly), the Northern Arapaho are looking to take quarantined bison onto their part of the Wind River Reservation (the Eastern Shoshone want a separate actually free range herd from Utah’s Henry Mountains – that’s not in the story, but we heard all about that at a workshop by Jason Baldes back in October).

    Anyhow, the ranchers in an AP story out today are afraid that elk will give brucellosis to bison who will then give it to cows, who will be trampling their crops in the meantime. And, of course, elk get it by being forced to the feedlots by wolves (that’s the implicit part not in the story).

    Anyhow, the story about Wind River is out today at http://www.casperstartribune.net/articles/2009/01/17/news/wyoming/41a57d673799f287872575410004d5ad.txt

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It’s hilarious that they are blaming wolves for forcing the elk into the feedlots where they get brucellosis.

    For year after year after year when the wolves were reintroduced, these anti-wolf groups and the state of Wyoming were blaming wolves for forcing elk away, not into the feedlots.

    It is true the elk get brucellosis at the feedlots, and it is true that the wolves scatter the elk away from them, not toward them. Wolf should probably get credit for working to reduce brucellosis.

  11. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    The Billings Gazette version of the story Jim linked to is slightly longer. Find it at http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2009/01/17/news/state/18-bison.txt.

    I’m of two minds about this.

    On the one hand, the bison quarantine project is a direct result of the illegitimate IBMP. The IBMP is illegitimate because it assumes a biological problem that is not a problem–brucellosis in bison is a threat to cattle–in order to solve a practical political problem: how can the livestock industry maintain its declining oligarchical control over land use and wildlife management for its own benefit, regardless of the consequences to wildlife and the common good?

    The true purpose of the IBMP is to control wild, free-roaming bison and deny them access to habitat “reserved” for cattle and to prop up a deeply entrenched oligarchy, from individual ranchers to the Stockgrowers to the DOL to APHIS. The so-called brucellosis problem supports an enormous, bloated, taxpayer-funded bureaucracy that does far more harm than good. (Let’s not forget that the other sub-agency of APHIS is Wildlife Services).

    Further, the quarantine facility is essentially a bison feedlot and inherently inhumane. The BFC has footage on its website of just how badly bison are treated in the facility. It’s kind of a bison Gitmo. Like the Cuban Gitmo, the bison Gitmo needs to be closed.

    On the other hand, I live on the Wind River Reservation and although I am not Native, I share the goal of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes to bring the bison back to the Wind River Basin, to which bison are native. The entire Basin is native winter range and was so rich for grazing of wildlife and horses that the Shoshone and the Crow fought a war over it around 1840.

    Much of the Basin is now overgrazed by cattle; in some cases, the overgrazing is severe.

    The Northern Arapaho proposal would establish a fenced-in bison range along the southern front of the Owl Creek Mountains that mark the northern boundary of the Reservation and divide the Wind River Basin from the Bighorn Basin. This area was proposed in the 1930s as another national elk refuge (to match the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole) to provide winter range for elk, but that proposal fell through, primarily due to the objection of sheep ranchers that possessed Reservation grazing permits in the area. The 1930s also marked the the resurgence of tribal sovereignty in the United States, and the Tribes probably objected to the designation of a large part of the Reservation as a national wildlife refuge.

    So the question is, can the bison quarantine program, as illegitimate as it is, nevertheless provide positive benefits for bison? That’s hard to say. From the IBMP agencies’ standpoint, the quarantine facility is being justified, cynically, so that Tribes with long-standing spiritual and practical interests in bison restoration can receive genetically intact wild Yellowstone bison to bolster bison restoration on the Reservations, as well as support various bison restoration efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Prairie Foundation, etc.

    From conservationists’ perspective, although they are sympathetic to Tribal demands, the quarantine facility, because it indiscriminately slaughters all brucellosis seropositive bison, is worsening the genetic damage being done to the Yellowstone population by the slaughters of bison crossing the western and northern borders of the Park. Also, quarantine management is inhumane.

    My own view is that these quarantined bison, since they’re already in the facility, should be transferred to the Northern Arapaho as soon as possible. However, the IBMP still needs to be scrapped in toto and the quarantine facility closed. A radically different ecologically-based management regime for Yellowstone bison can be devised that respectfully captures bison for transfer to Reservations, and I wholeheartedly support that.

    Some people may object that such a radically different, ecologically-based management regime–essentially, an up to date natural regulation regime–would never be approved without brucellosis control in bison designated for transfer. That may be correct politically. However, morally, I believe that the livestock industry, which is responsible for creating and worsening the brucellosis mess, should be forced to accept full responsibility for protecting cattle against brucellosis and get the hell out of wildlife management.

    We need to understand that brucellosis is not a fatal disease; the original concern with brucellosis is that it causes pregnant cows to abort, thus affecting economic production. However, later pregnancies tend to come to term.

    Further, the public health hazards of brucellosis (Bangs Disease) were taken care of by pasteurizing milk. Bison and elk with brucellosis don’t pose a public health hazard, or else meat from elk and bison slaughtered because they tested positive for brucellosis would not be distributed to the public, as is the case both in Montana and Wyoming. (There is still a question about what has happened with tons of bison meat that is as yet unaccounted for. Some of us suspect it was illegally sold by the DOL).

    The challenge facing us is to eliminate livestock industry control of land use and wildlife management. Clearly, industry control, as in the case of Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds, is making the disease problem worse for both wildlife and livestock, not better. The only way out of the destructive path of anthropogenic disease problems is to take an ecological approach to disease, which essentially means restoration of habitat at the landscape scale and restoration of wildlife, especially bison, to that habitat, and let nature deal with the problem. We certainly aren’t capable of solving it. We are, however, capable of making it worse.


  12. Salle Avatar

    Well this is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick:


  13. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Yes, the State of Montana is in a difficult position. Its control of bison (mis)management is beginning to unravel. Mary Erickson at the Gallatin National Forest is just trying to lend a helping hand.


  14. Salle Avatar

    I hadn’t looked too deeply into it, I was wondering about that though. Thanks.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan