Yellowstone bison population stable too

Both elk and bison currently stable-

Yesterday I did a long post on the stabilization of the elk population on Yellowstone’s northern range, but I didn’t mention another important development, the recovery of the bison population to a bit over 3000 animals. Growth between 2008 and 9 has been slow. In the past years, the bison population has swung wildly, often climbing to near 5000 only to be killed off by the brutal Montana Department of Livestock as the bison literally began heading for greener pastures outside the Park.

One big change is the distribution of the bison population. It has grown strongly on the northern range, but not with the herd in central Yellowstone.  In fact, the northern range bison have largely made up for the decrease in elk in terms of forage consumption.One bison eats about as much as 3 elk.  So about 2/3 the bison are now living on the Northern Range.

Right now bison on the west side of the Park are getting ready to migrate out of the Park onto Horse Butte, just west of the Park.  Last fall it appeared the bison would be welcomed for the first time, at least grudgingly, onto this vital calving ground. All the government agencies were lined up as was the enthusiastic major private landowner.  The Forest Service even officially closed the Horse Butte cattle allotment. This allotment had already been bovine free for a number of years. However, not being officially closed, opponents of bison could use the vacant cattle allotment to persist in their false argument about the danger of bison spreading brucellosis to cattle.

At the last minute, however, the agency that is the source of all the trouble, Montana’s DOL, went back on the deal.  Knuckle-dragging DOL agents are already lurking in the area. There will be trouble.



, , ,




  1. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    My take on larger numbers of bison in the N. herd than the one based in Hayden……Dysfunctional animals mass together. Another way to say this is the totally busted up and fractured family herds are more common in the Northern range…and have been that way for a much longer time than the Hayden herd.

    Just like the peoples of impoverished nations overpopulate more to try to save that species population (trying to start up structure from nothing left) the Lamar herd is reacting to massive disruption of vital infrastructure needs for species viability. These animals are filling animal refuge camps…where they stay in the Lamar Valley proper all summer.

    Before Park corraling disruptions the well infrastructured and confident family groups spread out a lot further establishing homes on the Lamar side drainages…. up Cache, Cold Creek, Soda you name it.

    The numbers game can not be applied to these herds to say they are RECOVERING. In fact the larger increase actually shows the opposite. Numbers in this case just shows how far out of wack this herd is.

    The Hayden herd, on the other hand, still has enough remnants of families left that they are trying to rebuild infrastructure within those seperate families instead of focusing on increasing numbers. It is like a company retrenching, taking training courses for employees, and building inhouse infrastructure before expanding its other operations.

    The Hayden families are trying to get members in place with order…then reproduction will commence to add to those family numbers.

    What I say above is the opposite of what “normal” herd biologists would assess as to health of a “herd”. As I said before they do not have a clue. Aj


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