Are Bison Wildlife or Livestock?

Montana HB253 would change the answer to wildlife-

This is the second story on HB253 posted in this forum.

Are Bison Wildlife or Livestock? You have to start somewhere, and this proposed legislation would be a good first step. By Bill Schneider. New West.

The Montana Wild Buffalo Recovery and Conservation Act of 2009 is co-sponsored by Mike Phillips (D-Bozeman) and Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman). The first hearing is on Thursday, Jan. 29.

It seems to me that since you can hunt bison in Montana that should make them wildlife unless it is legal to hunt other livestock. Is it just a matter that there is a permanent closed season on cattle 😉  ?






  1. John d. Avatar
    John d.

    I read about hunting bison in Yellowstone, the tags cost around $2000 or something.

  2. JB Avatar

    “It seems to me that since you can hunt bison in Montana that should make them wildlife unless it is legal to hunt other livestock. Is it just a matter that there is a permanent closed season on cattle.”


    Please let me know when the cattle tags go on sale! I’ll make a special trip out West to fill one. Maybe we can talk MFWP into a 3/day bag limit?! 😉

  3. buffalorunner Avatar

    Currently, Montana law recognizes all bison entering the state, regardless of whether they are wild or privately owned, as a livestock species…technically any livestock species are considered “exotic” species. This means that all bison entering the state of Montana are considered “exotics”…funny…in a place where they used to be a widespread NATIVE species they are now ecologically extinct and are not recognized as wildlife. Stop the insanity!

    Let’s hope HB253 passes and will truly benefit the restoration and recovery of wild bison in Montana!

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    Hey JB,

    I’ve got another place that you can hunt cattle.

    Hawaii adds stray cattle to open hunt list
    Maybe they’ll open up another season sometime.

    “Each licensed hunter will be permitted to kill and remove two cattle per day, with no season limit.”

    Imagine if the western states managed cattle like this. There sure wouldn’t be any trespassing cattle around here.

    You can watch a video here:

  5. vickif Avatar

    I hope it passes, but then what? Is there a more specific goal behind it?

    How about a good old fashioned bet? A wooden nickle says my cow will be bigger than yours? Ha! You are too funny. Yet the argument has huge merrit. How very relevant!
    Why do we hunt bison, but not cattle? It could become a big deal to hunt bison if they were allowed to be populous enough for the tags to be reasonable. I would think those hunters who say they fill freezers not hunt for antlers would be very enthusiastic. That would be a whole lotta meat in the freezer. (Though my family has purchased bison before….mostly burger from what I could tell.-I could be wrong.)-Either way, if you hunt for food, bison would be worth fighting to have as game.

  6. vickif Avatar

    Makes me say ‘aloha’ to that idea!

  7. Salle Avatar


    That topic came up at about this time last year. All I could find on it was the ruling. I asked my nephew, who lives over there, about it and he wasn’t able to find much more but the rule seems rather clear.

    I think the western states should adopt such a plan for free-range and public land grazing herds… Then the ranching industry might take on the responsibility of tending to their cattle. If they make such loud claims about humans being the top predator, they would have to find other means of dealing with cattle losses to humans since it’s illegal to kill us, even if we shoot their cattle. The worst that can happen is a fine or doing a little time…

    Sacred cows, indeed.

  8. outsider Avatar

    salle, remember these public lands abusers are immoral, shifty, and have a me first attitude. Don’t you really think they would just just pratice the SSS method on cow shooters, after all they are doing it to wolves and all sorts of other plants and animals

  9. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    If you want to find all the relevant information on the bill and who to contact, status of the bill, link to a press release our group put out on it, we set up a handy Web site at .

    In Montana law, bison are both listed as wildlife and as animals in need of disease control (therefore managed by the Department of Livestock). Now, I don’t think things will get magically better with FWP managing bison since they would still be under the IBMP. Some language in the bill seems to undercut the IBMP, but it would create a further ambiguous situation in terms of the IBMP. Perhaps, that would get us a little tactical leverage in exposing it all the more.

    What this bill does – and I don’t think it’s likely to pass – is raise another issue for dialogue, and Schneider’s piece gets to the crux of the dialogue. Montana is having it both ways with bison – they are wildlife (though they don’t exist in the state as wildlife); they are livestock. Well, what are they? And, shouldn’t that change the whole way people look at the brucellosis fraud? So, I hope when this bill probably fails that we use it as a hammer to drive at this important inconsistency in bison management, one that seems to resonate with a lot of people.

  10. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Here is a letter I sent to Bill Schneider this morning to comment on this story:


    I think your column in NewWest this morning is an accurate depiction of the bison bill. One problem that suggests itself–do we want to manage bison like elk? I hope that it doesn’t end up the way we manage elk here in Wyoming, and G&F does have full “authority” over elk. It’s simply that G&F has abdicated that authority to the Stockgrowers and the State Vet. We’re seeing FWP start to move in the direction of Wyoming, slaughtering elk that “threaten” cattle. What a crock of shit. DOL still hasn’t proven elk are responsible for the two Montana brucellosis incidents. The epidemiological report is full of holes. (That would make an interesting story!!!).

    It’s all part of the brucellosis fraud I’ve been talking about for years. That’s why Governor Bull Shit has “taken over” response to the bill from FWP.

    The main reason I support Glenn’s bill is that it moves bison in the right direction in Montana, if only for a few inches. We have to position bison within the shield of the public trust in wildlife. However, even if the bill passes, let’s not fool ourselves that FWP will manage bison in any way except how DOL and the Stockgrowers want. What we have to do is install a legal lever to force FWP to manage bison and elk in the public interest. This bill is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    Keep up the good work.


  11. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Does anyone out there even know how to “hunt” bison to maintain populations in any new area? Ours is an entirely different era than the earlier chapter in this countries history. The only bison hunted in the Greater Yellowstone so far are bison egressing from their YNP home. No home has been established outside YNP like what bison have at Henry Mts.

    Unless bison are allowed to establish satellite matriachal herds, which includes male protectors, in areas for a number of years left undisturbed, you will have cow – calf herds moving all over the mountains outside Yellowstone.

    Hunting can be done with herds, where stability is established sooner, but what G&F biologist knows to put off limits the two 4-5 year old bulls which travel with these satellite matriarchal components? None, and none of the hunters know this either, nor any of the BFC volunteers who tag along with the bison hunters of present.

    How will Montana G&F be able to say no hunting in the first years just like any other wildlife transplant herds get? With brucellosis the main political issue hunting will commence immediately and the cow – calve groups will either perpetually head back to the Park or make a run for it many miles away from Yellowstone.

    These are not elk herds who already have home infrastructure (though very dysfunctional) in place. Bison are bigger and thus have different herd characteristics than the more mobile elk. It is much easier for an elk to temporarily flee its home than a bison. Evolutionary, they have depended on extended family infrastructure for protection against predators. Once the horse was introduced into the predator game, characteristics of bison herds became dysfunctional in nature. Combining of multiple herds became the norm and perpetual seeking of non disturbed areas (Moses and his people in the Wilderness comes to mind) commenced.

    Some tribes recognized this and actually “farmed” the herds. No disturbance was allowed pre rut to keep the cows with young in place.

    Hunting of resident bison outside of Yellowstone can be done but as it stands the political pressure of G&F”managing the herd” means hunting commences immediately, not four years later. Who out there is going to distinguish between overflow Yellowstone animals and those satellite herds trying to take up permanent residence in the Madison or Yellowstone Valley???? I know of no biologist who knows anything of bisons core infrastructure needs. Thus, who in Montana G& F will set seasons and restrictions where bison herd needs are addressed?? None, none. And even if they suddenly became enlightened, who on the ground would be able to recognise a satellite herd from an overflow population? None. Will any Montana G&F wardens be able to assist a hunter in pointing out which elements of a herd are critical to kept alive in these first years of out of Park establishment? None. Will BFC volunteers be able to do so? No. Will any hunter even care what a BFC advocate even says? No. Then who do we have left to protect the bison herds from a very flawed mismanagement system sure to be set in place?

    Yes, all this is years away but the change in management thinking needs to be addressed now. it is the only way we won’t have matriarchal bison herds on Ennis, Ashton or Livingston cattle ranches.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    A tangent to Bob Jackson’s comment, does any state wildlife agency take into account the animal equivalent of social structure for any game animal?

  13. Salle Avatar

    I have never, in years of hearings and personal discussions with any state agency personnel from any state, heard or seen any sign of “group dynamics” ~ if you will ~ concerning any specie… ever. I have heard mention of such aspects by YNP folks and couple other federal personnel.

    Primarily, I hear of these dynamics from my numerous Native American associates, and they often emphasize these points. For them, it is a matter of respect for all living things and indication that this also requires objective observation of each specie, its interaction within but also interaction with other species as a collective of life ~ all living things are related.

    The mainstream society should “get” this and start acting accordingly or we can never hope to have meaningful retention of any ecosystem health. And a lot of it has to do with respect for all living things, without the others we cannot live either.


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

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