New report indicates that Yellowstone Bison are the only genetically pure herd managed by the Department of Interior

Yellowstone herd also contains two distinct populations.

Buffalo on Horse Butte © Ken Cole
Buffalo on Horse Butte © Ken Cole

It has long been postulated that Yellowstone bison are important because they remain the only continuously free roaming herd but their importance has been elevated with the disclosure of a recent report which says that they are also the only genetically pure herd among those managed by the Department of Interior.

Not only this, but the Yellowstone population actually consists of two distinct populations which has extraordinary management implications.  Currently the management plan for Yellowstone bison does not take in to account the two distinct populations leading to the possibility that management actions could have a disproportionate impact on one population over that of the other.  These kinds of impacts can be profound genetically and can lead to loss of genetic diversity over time.  The management activities can also have disproportionate impacts on herds because they can eliminate entire maternal groups, groups of closely related cow/calf groups, which are routinely captured and slaughtered on the northern and western boundaries of Yellowstone Park.

Here is part of Table 1, found on page 8 of the report, which shows the population size and whether there has been any genetic introgression with cattle found:

Herd name (abbreviation) Estimated population size Introgression present a
Fort Niobrara NWR (FN) – original herd 290 Yes
Ft. Niobrara NWR (FNSH) – formerly located at Sullys Hill* 61 Suggested b
Theodore Roosevelt NP – North (TRN) 312 Yes
Theodore Roosevelt NP – South (TRS) 371 Yes
National Bison Range (NBR) 350 Yes
Neal Smith NWR (NS)** 71 Suggested b
Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA)*** 44 Suggested b
Wichita Mountains NWR (WM) 650 Yes
Badlands NP (BNP) 875 Yes
Grand Teton NP (GT) 900 Suggested b
Wind Cave NP (WC) 350 Suggested b
Yellowstone NP (YNP) 3,000**** None detected

a Based on mitochondrial DNA typing following Ward et al. 1999 and a panel of 14 nuclear microsatellites following Halbert et al. 2005.
b Introgression was not directly detected in these herds using microsatellite markers, but it is highly suggested due to the source of the herd and/or initial testing using single nucleotide polymorphisms (Robert Schnabel, pers .comm.).
* The entire Sullys Hill herd was moved to Fort Niobrara NWR in 2006. They are maintained separately from the original Fort Niobrara herd.
** Based on genetic evaluation, in 2006, all bison at Neal Smith were donated to a local Native American tribe, and a new herd was established with 39 bison from the National Bison Range.
*** Established with bison from the National Bison Range in 2006–2007.
**** Yellowstone bison of are two distinct but closely related types (Halbert and Derr 2007b, Gardipee 2007).







  1. Virginia Avatar

    Ken – thank you for this great report. Do you feel that this report will have any possible impact on the way these bison are being mismanaged by the DOI? I certainly hope it will and that we will all be waiting to see if any change in the mismanagement occurs.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I’m hoping that it will but these changes won’t happen without some serious poking and prodding. I personally feel that this bolsters our litigation and should bolster an ESA listing petition.

    2. Save bears Avatar

      I really hope they list them, I have been saying this for 20 years now, bison are not livestock, they are distinct population segments that need to be protected, just as any other species that has been listed.

      I really wish, we could invoke the 1919(I think it was 1919) bison act to ensure these animals survive, to loose the genetically pure herds, would be one of the worse results we have ever faced..they are unique and they deserve the protection as well as a larger area to roam…

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        Well put SB,
        It saddens me every time I go through the park and note how these magnificent beasts are essentially trapped within the borders of Yellowstone. There is such obvious potential habitat all the way thru Paradise Valley and the surrounding national forests. There is no reason they can’t live in many of those areas as well… The only sign of humanity is on the side of HWY 89 and bison could range everywhere, in mostly public land areas.

      2. Save bears Avatar

        I know that Bob Jackson may have very different opinion on this issue…but think folks, this the last last genetic link to the 60-80 million animals that roamed in America when the white man came to North America.

        We are never going to have the populations that we did in the past, that is gone, but there is absolutely no reason not to preserve these two distinct populations!

        I know we often, in fact most of the time talk about wolves, but understand, with the latest genetics, it shows the wolves that were re-introduced, don’t significantly differ than what lives over the political boundary in Canada, we will never be in jeopardy of loosing wolves, we are in serious danger of loosing the Bison, we need to ensure these animals survive, there is no reason at all to loose them.

        They are prolific breeders, they can sustain themselves, if we just give them a chance, there is simply no reason for them to be slaughtered when they leave a very small area of the country.

        In all honesty, I find the Bison issue to be far more dangerous of loss than the wolves, other than diluted domestic herds, they don’t exist anywhere else in the world…

        Do they need to be managed, YES, do they need to be slaughtered because they leave the park, not at this time and they never have needed to be slaughtered in the last 100 years.

        Bison can be a success story, just as Elk have been, it just takes dedication and understanding of the very unique species it really is…

      3. WM Avatar

        SB & Ken,

        From what I understand the Wood Bison (populating Wood Bison National Park, and the largest of North America bison) in Canada are reportedly genetically pure (no cattle genes). While Wood Bison are a subspecies and apparently different than the small population of ones we are trying save from cattle dilution, did they at any time occupy the US, and would this be a source of genetic material for maintaining pure bison acceptable for ESA interpretation purposes?

      4. Ken Cole Avatar

        I’m not sure what the total history is but Canada supplemented the wood bison herd with plains bison so there may be some hybridization issues there. I have read that an isolated population of pure wood bison was discovered but I don’t know much more than that.

        Canadian bison also have many disease issues. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and anthrax have all been problems for these herds.

        There is, however, a plan to reintroduce wood bison to Alaska.

  2. Darrell Geist Avatar
    Darrell Geist

    Virginia it should act as a counterweight to the multi-agency bias that is destroying and not conserving the Yellowstone herd. Unfortunately, those agencies operate by consensus and the consensus is one rooted in Montana’s political bias against establishing wild viable populations of buffalo in the state.

    By the way, the report came from me via a Freedom of Information Act request Darrell Geist, habitat coordinator for Buffalo Field Campaign.

  3. Craig Avatar

    I can’t unterstand why Bison aren’t repopulated to former ranges? They draw huge fees to hunt them in Utah, South Dakota,Montna, Idaho on ranches. It would be a big money maker for any F &G who put the populations to a wild state like Utah did.Peolple covet that tag to hunt wild Bison, I don’t need to here the bs brucelosis excuses, we have been over that.

  4. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I had actually heard that the Badlands and Wind Cave herds were genetically pure. If those two aren’t then the only other herd that is would be the Henry Mountains herd as it is descended from Yellowstone stock. There are plenty of places buffalo could be restored to. The Red Desert would be a great place. There is little ranching and a lot of open space to roam that is roadless. That would be a huge draw for hunters.

  5. vickif Avatar

    Well, as history would have it, the herd is really “managed” by the stock growers. I hope this changes.

  6. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    The genetics boys had to CORRECT themselves because they would have been found out SOON. They knew they didn’t have those Aryan pure herds in the other DOI herds but this is where the money played a part in making those herds “initially pure”.

    Wind Cave was the DARLING FOR ALL THOSE TRANSPLANTING PROGRAMS but EVERYONE knew the Custer “polluted” herd crossed paths every year for decades. The Park managers would even take down the fences between theses two herds so the “excess” from Wind Cave would end up in Custer. The Govt. cowboys would watch the two herds to see when more of one would be on the Custer side and then put the fence back up. And up untill a couple of years ago bulls from each would go to the “other side”.Ssome got rounded up right away. Others it took until after the rut was over.

    It was such a farce and THEY ALL knew it was. The tragedy was all those supposed soiled herds had to die in order to be replaced by Aryans.

    And as for two distinct herds in Yellowstone there are THREE not two. The boys doing the testing don’t know what they looking for, can’t tell the difference in what a herd looks like to do the correct sample taking. After my presentation at the American Bison Society conference last year in Rapid City I sat at the banquet with James Derr. It didn’t take long to find out they knew little of where to test in Pelican Valley – Mirror herd to get any results representative of that core group.

    They took the edge not the core… and they didn’t know when to test to get to this core MT. Bison Herd.

    This is the herd those genetic boys should be replicating in the mts….not the Plains bison in the rest of the Park. Plains might be pure…. without soiled cow genes…. but they shouldn’t be in the MOUNTAINS!!!!!!!

    Of course management for these Mountain Bison would mean vastly different operations. It would mean parts of the Park would be off limits to humans. The wariness of these mt. bison dictates this.

    Enough for now but the report is tragically flawed. And the authors have no idea of what makes a viable population. Itt is not numbewrs but cultually intactness that allows sustainability of a distinct “herd”.

    I say, ” forgive them for they do not know”.

    1. Craig Avatar

      Bob, can you source every claim you made? I’m just asking, pure real documts? If so this would be great info!

  7. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Bob, do you know some good sources about these mountain bison? I have heard of them a few times and can’t seem to find much on them. How are they different from plains bison?

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      No, he doesn’t. Their existence is pure speculation.

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      He also has a bad habit of confirming Godwin’s Law's_law

    3. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      Prowolf,et al,

      My reports on this can be found on the internet. The AP picked up on this and it went to a lot of television and papers around the country.

      In a nut shell for researchers to lump a whole areas animals of one species together would be like alien researchers to see the town of San Francisco and then hover down and grab a few samples. Would they see Chinatown? I doubt it. And even if they saw Chinatown would they know how to sample it? No. Would they see black hair and not realize the mother walking with the sampled had black hair and the father on the other side had blond?

      Thus the animal researchers go to the fringes figuratively and literally to sample a “pelican-mirror herd and da da come up with a herd that looks a lot like Lamars.

      I know where they sampled and know when they sampled. Until they get to the middle of Chinatown they have nothing except what any population does…takes in genes to further their own strength of species vitality.

      The difference can be seen readily. The core herd acts different. They quack, swim and walk (rather run) like everything attributed to Mt. bison. And yes, I have a lot more expertise in knowing bison than the researchers do. and I could have shown them the animals to sample.

      Just like some human from the area near Chinatown could have shown them the people from core Chinatown I can do the same for a James Derr or other researchers. In fact James was interested enough…and could see the value of what I say….unlike Kenny boy…that he became very much interested in me showing him this Mt. bison herd.

      To continue with my Walnut shell the Park researchers have based their assumption of the Lamar herd and pelican’s Mt. Bison mixing is that they SAW THEM TOGETHER. Thus they became one.

      But what they don’t understand is any culture, human or otherwise will not fall from the face of the earth unless this culture is shattered. The Mt. bison had no reason to lose it all because they had a lot stonger infrastructure than the dysfunctional Plains bison.

      What they did have to do was shrink away from humans because this is what Mt. bison do.

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        Oh, I forgot, you can’t disagree with Bob or he will refer to you as “Kenny boy” and compare you to a Nazi.

        The fact of the matter remains. There is no evidence to back up his claim.

      2. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        Just remember, folks, Ken didn’t even recognize matriarchal families and to this day he doesn’t think of males as part of a bison family. Hopefully this has changed, but looking at kens review at the first par of this story all he talks of are “maternal”…so I doubt it has. Tell me, KEN, do you believe bison males are part of distinct family herds?

        As for Yellowstones bison herds, plains and mt. bison, both should be saved, I believe.

      3. cc Avatar

        Bob’s theory of mountain bison is based solely on his observations of skittish bison in forested habitat. That’s it. And his sad world view that everyone other than him is an idiot and animal culture equals human culture (or at least that of minorities). Just remember he swears to have seen Sasquatch in the backcountry too. No doubt a unique subspecies of Sasquatch too.

      4. Ken Cole Avatar

        That’s BS Bob. I recognized matriarchal family groups long before we ever met. That is self evident when observing them. However, I don’t buy your argument that these family groups are lead by bull patriarchs or however you describe them.

        On many, many occasions cow/calf family groups have left the park long before any bulls have ventured out on to Horse Butte. This seems to strongly contradict your hypothesis.

        I also think there is a strong animosity between Bob and Park biologists that is rooted in his past dealings with the Park Service.

      5. ProWolf in WY Avatar
        ProWolf in WY

        CC and Ken, I have read about mountain bison and it was several years ago. So there is at least someone out there besides Bob who believes they exist. I also found this from the National Park Service website.

      6. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson


        Many historical accounts talk of the bulls coming first and then in a week or whatever the main cow-calf group showing up. The Plains indians used this indicator to celebrate the coming hunt. See the bulls and the ceremonies started…and hunting by individuals was forbidden until the cows showed.

        These were the lead, or forward party bulls. There are also the flank bulls. These are either with the main herds on the sides maybe a mile or so and then there are the older bulls bringing up the rear maybe a week or so behind. It is like a military move and it happens at all levels of bison family life. Also maybe think of the Oregon trail where a lot of males…. the husbands went ahead and then sent word back for the rest of the family to come on out. Then the female contingent traveled later with the wagon masters. flanker males rode on the fringes and then the grandparents came on the next wave.

        But there are males with the extended cow groups …but this is limited to the satellite spin off groups. Then one sees maybe a 5-6 year old male with a bit younger male right in with this satellite herd.

        This spin off herd is still dependent on the larger power group and when these two bulls are killed off then the security goes out the window and the satellites “go back to mamma” fast. This exactly what happened when BFC filmed the Nez Perce shooting the two bulls out of this group. Neither the Indians nor the BFC knew what kind of fracturing this killing did.

        And as far as you knowing bison were in matriarchal groups you must have been the only one at BFC who knew this…because when I gave them the papers at their headquarters none there was aware of it. Of course BFC was no different than Park biologists, who wrote for the interagency meeting, that they saw bonding at the mother-calf level and maybe a bit at the cow yearling level. THAT WAS IT!

        I suggest you get off the superior species wagon and start thinking males play a lot more important role than breeding. Otherwise you are relegating yourself to exactly the same small function when it comes to human species male needs….where you have to believe all those bullies kicking sand in your face on the beach have a right to do so.

  8. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    A retired seasonal ranger who now raises domesticated bison for personal profit does not have the qualifications to poster himself as a “expert”. If Bob would care to read Gardipee’s thesis, he would see that bison in Pelican Valley and Mirror Plateau bison were sampled, as well as other regions within the park, and their data revealed only two populations. And some of these distinct herds may exhibit unique ecological adaptations among them. Halbert & Derr tested samples only from bison captured or slaughtered on winter ranges outside the park.

    Let’s not get all hung up on mountain (theoretical sub-species, probably just a long-lost ecotype) vs. plains bison…the important issue here is that the all of the genetic studies, including the most recent SNP work, reveals that the Yellowstone are the ONLY bison population free of evidence of hybridization with cattle and are thus the most critical population for bison conservation! They should be legally protected as a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act. Why would anyone argue against that???!!! Really???!!!

    1. Save bears Avatar

      You will get no argument from me at all!

    2. Jeff Avatar

      This article is about DOI pure herds—What about private, state, or tribal herds? Are any of these potentially pure?

    3. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      I have talked with Gardipee and my conclusion is nor her assistants she did not, nor know how to identify nor sample the Pelican core herd. The sampling of these Mt. bison have not breen done.

      1. WM Avatar


        Why don’t you just put together a proposal, maybe even with some help from Ken/Buffalo Fields and some folks who lean your way in the academic community and see if you can find funding for a study to put this issue to rest. Maybe there are even a few philanthropic folks out there who would contribute. I can’t imagine a cost of more than $30-50K, maybe even less.

    4. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      A simple question? How can there be two distinct herds in Yellowstone and, not with the same thinking, there can be a still seperate group, Mt bison, not allowed. Your logic is very limiting. Any argument of TWO seperate genetic herds in Yellowstone means both these herds have kept seperation between them when there are natural barriers to do so. So how do they do it? No different than Mt. Bison would, by social identity.

      I suggest you allow for an expansion of thinking, one where the present status quo of your arguments limits yourself when these arguments are needed most…when it comes time to present good arguments for protection of these bison.

  9. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K. Sharpe

    I am not going to argue.I think they should be protected.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      I’m not ready to buy completely into ESA listing just yet, at least without answering a few questions. I agree completely that the herd should be given more protection, allowed to expand and be used to restock other areas, just as “surplus” Yellowstone elk were used to re-stock numerous isolated mountain ranges where they we eliminated by market hunting in the 1880s. However, one question is would that even be allowed with bison under the Endangered Species Act? Or is that question even possible to answer without going through inevitable litigation to find out?

      Should the act be limited to protect species/population segments that are actually endangered with extinction, or applied to those that appear unique but reasonably secure against the threat of extinction, i.e. located in a large national park? One of the primary examples that gives me pause in this area is the Steller Sea Lion which has been a really big deal for well over 2 decades. When its all said and done, I have to ask “Is there really any credible threat of extinction?” As with many populations, for example wolves in the upper Midwest, the original listing had a plausible rationale – – – a relatively steep decline of unknown cause and a potential threat from conflict with a major human activity (commercial fishing). It has since been divided into an eastern stock (listed as threatened) and a western stock (listed as endangered). The eastern stock that resides in this region has increased and is considered quite healthy, although still listed as threatened (because nothing ever comes off the list). The western stock is now at a population level that, compared with the period of high abundance in the 1970s, is fairly proportionate to the decline in northern Yellowstone elk (which have not to my knowledge been proposed for listing). The western stock is down substantially, but there are still several 10,000s of animals. Furthermore, despite an array of national environmental organizations that have awaited impatiently for science to hand them a smoking gun (to facilitate publicity, fund-raising and litigation), the large industrial bottom-fish fisheries have largely escaped blame. The problem is that after decades, science doesn’t seem to have come much closer to fingering a cause at all. There are factions putting forward various hypotheses, but no agreement. And that to some extent is the direct fault of the ESA which hinders the type of invasive research that would be needed to more definitively answer the question. The preponderance of evidence seems to point toward a top down influence, such as predation, rather than a bottom-up influence such as a nutritional problem that could potentially be tied to human activity such as removal of forage by fisheries (although no-fishing buffer zones have been established around rookeries as a precautionary measure). One interesting recent hypothesis ties together the sea lion decline with the sequential decline of several species in western Alaska (fur seal, harbor seal, sea otter) with prey switching by killer whales following a major reduction in great whales during the last bought of Soviet whaling in the 1960s.

      In any case, my point is that listing had most of its benefits right away — primarily by prompting fishermen to cease fire on pesky sea lions, both for fear of severe federal penalties and in recognition of the fact that the future of their industry was tied to not impacting sea lions and in fact hoping for their recovery. The same would be the case for Yellowstone bison — listing would quickly send Montana DOL packing. Unfortunately, with sea lions the potential scientific benefits of remaining on the list have not really been realized, and somewhat the contrary. A friend of mine is the project leader for sea lion research in SE Alaska. About 3 years ago, she was ambushed by HSUS in a Washington D.C. court just as she was heading into the field, and it took a severe toll on her research. Even though the invasive aspect of her research (marking sea lion pups) had been over for a couple of years, with only observational work remaining, the judge swung that huge hammer around and put out an encompassing ruling that essentially required her vessel (and those of all other sea lion researchers in the state) to remain tied at the dock — despite the fact that the eastern stock that she studies could not even be considered threatened (despite its ESA designation). It put a big hole in her research, the main purpose of which was to provide a comparative study of a healthy, growing population to help better understand what might be limiting the western stock that, while increasing recently, is still far below historical levels. Unfortunately, there is no law that accomplishes those main initial benefits of ESA protection without the forever aspect of an ESA listing (complete with an uninformed judge popping up now and then indiscriminately swinging a big hammer).

      1. JB Avatar

        “Should the act be limited to protect species/population segments that are actually endangered with extinction, or applied to those that appear unique but reasonably secure against the threat of extinction, i.e. located in a large national park?”

        Seak: Your question implies that endangerment refers only to total extinction–a species we would otherwise lose from this earth. Under this approach, species that were once widely distributed (e.g., bison, wolves, lynx, brown bear, etc.) would only be entitled to protections when the faced the imminent threat of total extinction. Under this approach, there would be no need to list any of these species in the lower 48 because viable populations exist in Alaska and Canada. This was the approach Congress took with the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, which was subsequently replaced by the ESA after it was realized that the former was inadequate.

        The ESA calls for protecting a species (defined as a species, subspecies or distinct population segment) when it is threatened or endangered in all or a significant portion of its range. I don’t see how anyone could argue that bison in the conterminous US, which were once distributed from the Rocky mountains across the plains states to near the east coast, are not at least threatened with extinction under the ESA’s definition. The FWS’s decision on the 2006? petition to list the bison defies all logic–it was a dereliction of duty, IMO.

    2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      JB –
      Thanks for the reference — it is very informative for someone like me whose exposure to the ESA is mainly through frequent news articles, and I’ve been beginning to wonder what the parameters are around the act. It does appear that there are some species that may reach large, healthy populations throughout their currently available range that will still never be possible to delist. I’m not sure the public has really come to that realization as they are still reading about government agencies going through the motions of trying to delist populations like upper Midwest wolves that can never again occupy “all but an insignificant portion” of their historic range.

      Bison would be similar. Even if all the “unclean” herds are ultimately 100% sent to slaughter and replaced with pure Yellowstone stock, do you think a western US DPS could ever be delisted? While I like the idea of returning much of the Great Plains to prairie and bison habitat, I wonder about the ultimate political effect of using the ESA to force a “Buffalo Commons” on other interests by creating “sacred cows” (as in India) that are free to occupy whatever habitat they want but cannot be hunted or managed much locally anywhere within their range (although surely viewed as pure justice by some). (By the way, the current ESA listing on wood bison has been the main (political) impediment to reintroducing them into suitable habitat in interior Alaska where they have been absent for about 400 years.)

      I realize those are future questions, perhaps beyond the horizon for those hoping to wield the Act on behalf of bison on the boundaries of Yellowstone in the near future. Opponents, however, will quickly affix their version of broad, dark motives and a grim future in the public consciousness much the way they’ve done with wolves.

      I’m still struggling with the idea of the ESA as a one-way street for some species based on a mismatch of geographical requirements of the Act and current limitations in habitat, even when all other definitions of a secure population are met. I look around and wonder how on earth they can call the eastern stock of sea lions threatened but then remember the DPS goes all the way to California, and if they come under stress from climate change or any other factor down there they will never be delisted here, over 1,500 miles away, even if they were able to increase enough to take over public harbors. Meanwhile we will very likely see an increase in listings of genuinely endangered but less glamorous species that are coming under stress from climate change with few places to go. I suspect these questions will increasingly surface in public discourse in the future and it will be interesting to see what comes of them.

      1. JB Avatar


        Great questions! I have had many a conversation that centered around these same concerns. To be honest, I really don’t have an answer. Allowing the agencies administrative flexibility to list/delist at will would mean species fortunes could change with the political tides; likewise, a Congressional “fix” to the act to reduce or remove the SPR requirement could send us back to endangered species protections only for species threatened with imminent extinction, confining some populations (as bison are confined) to a system of “wilderness zoos”. If there is an easy policy fix to this problem, I am not aware of it.

      2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        I don’t know. The only solution I can think of off the top of my head would be to have an “independent” scientific commission that the agency could refer a delisting decision to when it determined that the population is secure, occupying nearly all available suitable range in today’s world, and that range is adequate. I realize that commissions can be somewhat politicized to but at least that way determinations would have to be made through two presumed scientific rather than political channels that the population is secure within the ample occupied range and delisting should proceed.

        I’m certain that no prominent ESA advocate would jump up and propose such a thing. On the other hand, if the Act becomes widely viewed as flawed there will certainly be increased attempts to legislate exemptions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the much-celebrated bald eagle delisting doesn’t appear to have been a significant test of the Act — exactly because all participants were comfortable with it and even the litigation-centric realized some example of a successful delisting was necessary. Existing law protecting the bald eagle even in this area, where they’re part of the scenery in every direction, far surpasses any listed species I’m aware of. USFWS posts all the nesting trees they can find and if one of those happens appear near the middle of your lot you may find it difficult or impossible to legally build anything (From the water, I’ve counted up to 28 eagles in the trees on my lot – 200 yards – but no nest).

        I think the real test will be Great Lakes wolves. I’m assuming they will continue through the full battery of legal tests and challenges because at least one group, if not CBD then HSUS, can be counted on to continue rising to the bait. If they cannot be delisted pretty much as is, something will happen. On the other hand, ironically, if I was a proponent of legislative delisting of NRM wolves, successful delisting of Great Lakes wolves would be one of the last things I’d want to see as it would take away my ability to say “See, the Act is flawed — there is no path even for the patient and virtuous!”.

  10. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    Curious that Wyoming has a white Bison as the emblem on its state flag, yet Bison are still considered a second class species to be marginalized to that big refugee camp called Yellowstone. Wyoming maintains a small herd of Bison for show at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, but culls them routinely to maintain a small number. A few Yellowstone bison have learned to migrate east out over Sylvan Pass from Yellowstone in winter, down to the North Fork of the Shoshone. But Wyoming Game & Fish’s management plan for them r equires that all cows be slaughtered ( that brucellosis thing) , and only a maximum number of 15 bulls are allowed, and all must stay inside the Shoshone National Forest . In short, they too are refugees.

    Yet Wyoming has many areas of unpopulated open space that could concievably be free Bison range…my interior Big Horn Basin , the Wind River Valley and Reservation , the Red Desert , Thunder Basin National Grassland ( splendidly named! ) , maybe even some portion of the Black Hills .

    What it comes down to , think, is the Wyoming Stockgrowers not wanting any competition. I have to think Wyoming’s bison policy is actually dictated by its cattlemen calling the shots.

    “Do I use a .45-90 or a .50 cal ?” is about the extent of it….

    We still call ourselves The Equality State and still put the White Bison on our state emblem , but both are grossly hypocritical iconography.

    1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      Cody, I agree, Wyoming could support plenty of herds in those areas. If they opened up hunting seasons on them then maybe Montana could see that buffalo could be an asset. Where in the Bighorn Basin could they be restored? I could imagine parts of the Wind River Reservation and certainly the Red Desert and Thunder Basin National Grassland and parts of the Black Hills.

  11. PointsWest Avatar

    How about expanding Yellowstone to include Island Park. The bison could summer in Island Park, Henry’s Lake Flats, and Bechler Meadows and then migrate down into the desert near the St. Anthony Sand Dunes to winter. It would be the largest hear in the Park.

    1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      I like that idea as well!

  12. PointsWest Avatar

    I would have to say that I was always doubtful about a separate “mountain bison” sub-species. Bison get lost and roam for hundreds of miles. Bison would come down into the farms around Ashton, sometimes, from Yellowstone Park…far from home. The seem to get lost or simply will roam to far off patures. Bison were, originally, as far west as Oregon and there were many in southestern Idaho all over and at many different elevations. There are great bison trails across the Centennial Range where trenches are cut 30 feet deep from bison traffic because bison would migrate over the 10 thousand foot Centennials to/from the Upper Snake River Valley to the Centennial Valley.

    How were the mountain bison separated from plaines bison so that they wouldn’t interbreed? Bison got around and might relocate hundreds of miles in a single summer. How did a mountain sub-species avoid breeding with a lost and roaming plains sub-species or vice versa?

    There may be some variety in the species or the visible differences may be expressions of epigenetics. I don’t get the moutain sub-species unless someone could explain it to me.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I don’t think that there is any evidence that they did maintain separation thus my dispute with Bob Jackson.

    2. PointsWest Avatar

      Not only would it be hard to find a physical boundry between the two subspecies, bison migrated from south from Beringia only 15,000 years ago. I doubt there were two sub-species at that time. So if there is a sub-species, it would be, at most, 15,000 years removed from the plains bison….and there has been so much climate change in this short period, I cannot imagine that a separate sub-species would evolve.

      We have or had separate sub-species in the southwest because of physical boundaries such as the Grand Canyon and Rio Grande Valley. We have whitetail and blacktail deer in the Northwest because of the Cascade Range (that was probably fairly glaciated up until 5,000 year ago) but I can find no boudaries in the GYC for bison.

      1. PointsWest Avatar

        I mean we have separate sub-species in the southwest such as the Mexican Wolf and the Mexican Grizzly (now extinct). I did not mean we had a sub-species of bison there.

  13. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    Not even genetic studies between wood and plains bison have revealed enough differentiation to support the subspecies designation currently recognized. by mammalogists..they are simply ecotypes who can interbreed with each other. There is no mountain bison subspecies in Yellowstone…just the last, wild, genetically pure bison herd that is in dire need of legal protection to insure the persistence of the species.

    1. mikarooni Avatar

      Your reference to the inability to interbreed being a mandatory criterion for subspecies differentiation makes me wonder about your background knowledge. Modern “mammalogists” as you put it recognize dozens, if not hundreds, of different subspecies and even species that can not only interbreed, but produce fertile offspring in the process. Bison and cattle are not only different species, but are separated at the genus. They can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Dogs, coyotes, jackals, dingos, and wolves can all interbreed. Domestic sheep and some residents of rural Wyoming …well, nevermind.

      1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        That brings up an interesting point. Would allowing bison free range outside Yellowstone jeopardize their unique status as genetically pure (through more constant contact and opportunity to breed with cattle), even while allowing them to occupy more of their historic range and increase numerically? Perhaps that’s not a real concern — I can’t imagine an angus or hereford bull doing too well in a rutting dust-up — but the cattle genes in all these other herds did somehow get into the populations or their common source.

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        mikarooni says:
        “Bison and cattle are not only different species, but are separated at the genus. They can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.”

        That did not happen naturally. It took many attempts of artificial insemination that produced many dead, deformed or infertile fetuses to come up with the hybridized beefalo that exist now. They would not breed on their own and those that did were very noticeable. Also, the bulls were rarely ever fertile. The only way to produce fertile cows was to breed a bull with a cow bison. A fertile bull wasn’t produced until 1965.

  14. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    That would be a concern Sneak. There would have to be some sort of a buffer zone set up around the park.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Let me ask what might be an unpopular question.

    Can bison with some cattle genes still perform the same ecological functions as pure bison?

    Livestock interest groups try to bullshit us by saying cattle themselves do. That’s just self-serving PR for their industry, but do a few cattle genes make a difference in bison behavior and the effects of bison on the land?

    1. Save bears Avatar


      Depending on the species of Cow, yes, even a few genes can cause behavioral differences in Bison, there is a local herd of Bison here where I am at, and they were cross bread a few generations ago with believe it or not, Texas Longhorns.

      They ended up being so god damn mean as well as escape artist that the county ag dept filed suit against the rancher and the majority of them were put down because they really became a threat to the community. But there are still a few diluted members in his herd and they act quite a bit differently than the pure bread members of either species..

      Bison and cattle mixes can have very unpredictable results, as well as change their behavior as well as how they interact with the natural environment.

      Cattle do not interact with the environment the way Bison do, cattle are not programed for the wild the way bison are, which is the reason they have to be taken care of, especially during a harsh winter..

      I know Beefalo was a popular thing for a short while years ago, but in all of my work and studies, I have never seen it to be a benefit to either species..

      1. Save bears Avatar

        Another thing I have noticed over the years, is mixed breed Bison, have completely different grazing habits, and you can tell the different in studying the pasture lands where they are kept..

    2. Darrell Geist Avatar
      Darrell Geist

      I don’t know if a representative herd exists to answer your question Ralph. That is, large landscapes in which bison’s complex herd structure – culture for Bob’s clan – among other important parts of their nature plays out over many generations without roundups, fences, artificial selection, vaccinations, micro-chipping and other domestication tools that are pervasive in private, state, and federal management.

      Knapp and his colleagues found some evidence of bison’s keystone ecological roles at the Tall grass prairie in Kansas. But I suspect this is like finding dust where a mountain used to be.

      It’s not just grass but an incredible diversity of species that wild bison sustain. Do grassland birds benefit from confined herds? If so, why are grassland birds on the decline? How many wallows across the landscape are needed to benefit frogs as ephemeral pools in the spring? Or to break up that wild grass fire during drought? How much habitat is needed to predict winter kill of bison so that bears emerging from hibernation benefit and their populations sustained? Is fish habitat impaired by confining bison just like cattle? Or is water quality and quantity improved for native fish where bison roam free? The ecological relationships of wild bison are vast, and not well known.

      I do remember from one of Derr’s presentations that the cattle genome displaces the bison genome where metabolism, disease resistance, among other traits, evolves and adapts in the species. (BTW, I know of no case where wild bison and domestic cattle bred naturally. The pervasiveness of the cattle genome was the result of many tried and failed experiments to produce fertile offspring starting about a 100 years ago).

      The counterpoint is, that unnatural displacement of the wildlife species genome could affect how bison adjust their metabolism to survive on a low-quality, limited forage base during winters for example. Or that bison may become more susceptible to exotic or native diseases that wild bison naturally resist. It’s never been studied but I suspect there are some very detrimental aspects to the cross-breeding experiments that have yet to be detected.

      The report raises a good question: just how many American bison retain their identity as a wildlife species?

      Sanderson and colleagues say the American bison is extinct in 99% of their historic range.

      So it appears to be one population remaining in Yellowstone that is under fire and indeed threatened with domestication just like the rest of their kind.

  16. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    Just guessing, but I would think that over time that cattle genes that are deleterious to ecological function, mating, survival etc. would tend to be bred out in the wild. A more likely problem would seem to be if the bison population was bombarded with cattle genes on a substantial ongoing basis or “domesticated” in captivity (where cattle genes could be advantageous) over generations.

    I know there have been similar issues raised with caribou and reindeer. Whole herds of privately owned reindeer (imported originally from Lapland in 1892) on the Seward Peninsula have occasionally been swept up, left and apparently interbred with migrating Western Arctic caribou. I’ve read somewhere that they have different behavior and different effects on the landscape, with reindeer tending to concentrate and hit forage pretty hard in one area and leave trails while caribou tend to stay on the move and have less localized impact. There has been one genetic study has indicated that gene flow between reindeer and caribou has been quite limited and I’ve never heard of any indication that Western Arctic caribou which are quite abundant (currently close to 1/2 million) display reindeer features (shorter legs, black instead of brown newborn calves, etc.)

    1. JB Avatar

      Actually, a relatively recent study on wolves suggests that the black coat characteristic likely originated in domesticated dogs (many thousands of years ago) and was passed back to wolves through crossbreeding (again thousands of years ago). Some scientists argue that its proliferation among wolves suggests the trait is adaptive (so crosses between wild animals and domestic animals are NOT necessarily maladaptive).


      – – – –

      From the ESA’s perspective, I’m not sure if there is precedent for listing a a population of animals that is known to have been crossed with a different species. Anyone looked into this? The ESA defines a species as any recognized species, subspecies or distinct population segment of a species or subspecies. My reading of the Act is that the cross between two species would not be eligible for listing. By this reading, and in light of the data above, Yellowstone bison would be the only known representatives of the species (bison bison) in the conterminous US.

      Note: Those that are questioning if/how wolf x dog crosses could be considered a listable entity should know that the dog (C. lupus familiaris) is classified as a subspecies of the wolf (C. lupus).

  17. PointsWest Avatar

    The domestication process selects, more than anything else, calm, gentle, and defenseless behavior. That is, it selects behavior that is NOT wild. Wild and domesticated are nearly antonyms. In fact, that is how domesticated animals were domesticated. The less wild ones, the ones who would accept the presence of humans, were more likely to survive and reproduce with the aid of humans and once humans became active in reproduction, the selection of genes that yielded calm domesticated behavior was accelerated. It was only after a species was domesticated did humans begin breeding it for physically desirable characteristics such as rapid growth or heavy wool.

    Since the domestication process happens so rapidly, there is some genetic baggage that comes along with it. I do not recall what all that baggage is but it funny things like chest patches and color changes and more.

    The problem is, how do you know how much “wild” is taken from a species when even just a few domesticated genes displace wild ones. How do you measure it and determine the long term consequences? Remember, the wild behavior was the very first thing selected out of a domesticated animal.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks to all three of you.

    And this is why Butch Otter’s wildlife-as-livestock should horrify anyone who wants wildlife on the land and water, for any purpose.

    I’m in my 60s now, but I realized when I was maybe 26-28 years old that the values of the tired old livestock elite in Idaho were contrary to everything I loved about the state.

  19. Ken Cole Avatar

    I’m glad that people are having a discussion about things other than wolves , except JB 😉

    I’ve learned much from Darrel over the years and thank him for this report. It is a very important price of the puzzle in the fight to protect bison.

    There is also an ongoing study that questions whether even 4000 is enough to sustain 95% genetic diversity over 200 years that will play a very important role in future management. That says nothing about maintaining healthy behavioral characteristics of wild populations that Yellowstone bison need to survive.

    Now that two distinct populations have been detected it doubles the number needed to maintain diversity and, because very few males actually breed, the effective population size is a very small percentage of the whole making it very important to maintain a high population to maintain even the limited diversity that is present now.

    Surely we have lost diversity in the last 100 years of the crazy management seen since the great slaughter where for many years there were only 500 bison and in subsequent years many hundreds or thousands were killed by the Montana DoL and similar numbers died due to being forced to stay in the Park where there is plenty of forage but it is unavailable under six feet of snow and ice.

    While in the Park last week it was evident that there is good forage at this late point in the season where livestock grazed lands are devastated. It a sick joke that ranchers have pulled in their attempts to get the NPS to manage the Park like a ranch full of livestock. Nothing could be farther from rationality.

    1. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      It makes little difference if there is lots or little forage available. The grazers have to have the confidence to graze the different drainages or “pastures’. By making the bison dysfunctional with all the corraling and killings the once functional family groups which grazed far and wide now gather in refuge camps. Thus the upper lamar etc. do not “herds’ there to graze the forage.

      Ranchers put up fences or push herds to open country but without this man idirected grazing the wild herd animals have to do it natures way…and this way is familiarity as well as confidence in different areas.

  20. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    Bison do not willingly breed with cattle. In fact, it has only occurred under forced conditions on ranches. And it has been documented that female bison would not breed with bull cattle. So, the most successful breeding occurred with bull bison and female cattle. But there were problems. Interbreeding and hybridization may occur between species, but is it not without consequences. Even though bison and cattle are close genetic relatives and share chromosomal homology, there are some genetic imcompatibilities that resulted in 100% sterility of male offspring of 1st generation matings between female cattle and bison bulls. 1st generation female hybrids had exhibited some reduction in fertility as well, . Cattle genes ultimately spread into the contemporary bison population through backbreeding to pure bison, which led to widespread introgression of cattle genes as studies have shown. And, female cattle pregnant with bison/cattle hybrids suffered high mortality from an excessive accummulation of amniotic fluid, most likely an immune response to the hybrid fetus. No such issues have been observed among matings between plains and wood bison.

    I visited a rancher in Montana who raises both bison and cattle on his ranch. I asked him how he keeps them apart since there were no fences separating them. He told me that the bison want nothing to do with the cattle at all and it was not a problem for him. This behavior has been documented by biologists and is known as “species indifference”. So, I don’t think we need a buffer zone between cattle and bison in the GYE to keep them from interbreeding.

    The critical issue here is that wild, genetically pure bison are represented as < 2% of all existing bison in North America…and guess what? They are all in Yellowstone NP!For more details see; Sanderson et al (2007), Hedrick (2009), and Boyd's MS thesis (2005). If we don't act to protect this precious resource, this percentage could dwindle down toward zero if DOL & APHIS have their way. So go ahead, keep arguing over the merits of DPS and ESA protection, and whether or not hybrids could serve the ecological function…in the mean time… the clock is ticking.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      Yes, the clock is ticking and getting a petition finished is a challenge.

    2. PointsWest Avatar

      I am all for getting Yellowstone bison in the endangered species list. How is it done? How can I help?

    3. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      I really wish I had time to get into this discussion with more fevor but too much work to do right now. So just a few quick notes.

      I read the comments on the causes and ability of bison to cross with cattle and can say you are wrong. The only thing that keeps bison from crossing or cattle crossing with bison is the degree of structure in both. Even peer or cohort association will come into play here. If one species individuals lacks all structure those animals WILL join up and mate with the other. How soon depends on the other species level of identity.

      Thus history talks of remnant bison joining up with cattle herds when the bison herds were shattered by hunting. But before that bison, though shattered, still had more infrastructure. Thus cattle from the trail drives would escape to join up with these bison herds.

      In fact some of the cowboys would quit the trail drives to go out on their own because they could make more money sorting cattle out of bison herds. A good hard working cowboy could sort out up to 2000 cattle a month.

      And all it takes after melding of a certain level of dysfunctionality between cattle and bison is FAMILIARITY before breeding commences.

      Female bison WILL breed with cattle males and male bison will breed with female cattle…without forcing. Its written in lots of books and my brothers did it easily when their bison were put in with my dads cattle herds.

      And I have to go, but the Buffalo Campaigns hang all their hats on “pure bison” genetics for expansion of Yellowstones herd has the least chance of Yell bison maintaining this so called “purity”. Just as Lake trout were reintroduced in Yellowstone Lake and rainbows crossed with cutthroat all it will take is someone not wanting an endangered “pure” bison is to let some farmer bison out of a trailer at night and ta da the buffalo field campaign has bison with cattle genes. Maybe this cattle infusion is in a small amount of the herds “let” out of the park but since they are free roaming the whole herd is polluted, right.

      Of course if those Yellowstone herds left out of Yellowstone were allowed very good infrastructure they would not take in these contaminated bison. But alas all those preservationists are compromising with hunting being allowed on this expanded herd…and thus with the states hunting guidelines, it is a given these bison herds allowed out of Yellowstone will become fractured and dysfunctional.

      I can also say anyone coming close with my knowledge of bison wanted to take a well structured extended family from any ranch and dump them in any drainage outside Yellowstone where Yellowstones bison are allowed and I guarentee it will be like flies sticking to fly paper. Yellowstone’s corral fractured animals will go to social mecca….my herd or any others like it. Whether “my” herd would accept some or all of them would depend on if the niche is filled and whether there were characteristics within Yellowstones busted up herd animals that “my” herd wanted. Most likely “my” herd would want some of the genes of scout Yellowstone bulls but refuse the main mass.

      No I think BFC needs to think of other reasons…and there are many….. why Yellowstone bison are allowed out of Yellowstone.

      PS. The reasons listed above also is why Yellowstones Mt. bison stayed seperate.

      1. PointsWest Avatar

        Wait a minute…you are saying bison will breed with cattle but Mountain bison and Plains bison will stay separate because of famly groups?

        I believe everything you say about family groups but there would still be the random roaming bison that would somehow find a new group and breed and I do not see why a Mountain Bison might not end up breeding with a Plains bison and vise versa. It wouldn’t take a lot of interbreeding to merge the two gene pools, if there ever were two separate pools.

        If there really is a type of smaller bison, I would guess it has something to do with epigenetics. That is, the evironment influenced the bison’s size…not a seperate gene pool.

      2. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        What I said was cross over breeding potential is directly related to the amount of INFRASTRUCTURE each component has. If one group has well defined structure and another has none those with none wil ltry to assimilate with those with structure. If there are genes the structured group wants it will let in only enough individuals of the dysfunctional group to provide those genes. To allow more will compromise its own culture and identity.

        Thus when there were both Plains and Mt. Bison pre whiteman the key in lapover areas was whether one had better infrastructure than another. This of course was entirely dependent on whether one group was better suited to a certain area than another.

        I’d have to surmise the fringes had a lot of cross breeding but pockets of “purity” occurred outside of stongholds when topography matched better one over the other. Thus the fringes of foothills had mt. bison where terrain was rugged and Plains occurred where those foothills were more rolling.

        Mt. bison acted the way they did (run on sight and to heavier cover) because they could be snuck up on easier. … whether it was wolves or Indians.

        Comparisons can be made with just about any species. Take the red wolf reintroduction program for one. The core pack(s) is not being diluted but all the fringe wolves are seeking out more order…which in this case is coyotes. The FWS really blew it when they reintroduced red wolves with so little infrastructure.

        I ask, “what made coyotes and wolves stay seperate pre whiteman”. It was good infrastructure in place by both. They both had tremendous culture and this is what kept them from being “one”.

        so it is with the Mt bison of Yellowstone. They are so much better adapted than plains bison there. But…..the increase of man into their core areas is taxing them severely. They keep searching out new country to the East of Pelican-Lamar but keep running into man…and thus run back…to more man in the form of outfitters with summertime guests.

        Their culture is being strained and it won’t be long before this fracturing will require them to meld with Plains Bison. Then it will all be over…that is until those displaced bison pick up enough mt. bison traits, in lets say 500 years, to act like Mt. Bison. It will never happen in a thousand years however if Rangers and Interagency personnel keep fracturing these Plains bison with the Brucellosis issue.

        And if they ever try seriously dart mt. bison with Brucellosis vaccines these Mt. Bison will be doomed that much sooner.

        The outlook is not good for them ….especially when we have biologists, laymen and researchers (Derr, Plum Gardipee and Ken Cole to start with) who do not have a clue as to how herd animals exist. That is why I said these Mt Bison have not been tested to date.

        To put it in human terms, these folks would not be able to find the core of Chinese folks in Chinatown. All they would look for was black hair and characteristic eyes.

      3. Ken Cole Avatar

        You’re a quack.

        You’ve made all kinds of ridiculous assertions that you simply cannot back up. Give something other than your little pet theories that anything you have said is true.

  21. Jeff Avatar

    So how does Grand Teton Park’s herd of bison figure into this discussion? It has been documented that YNP bison have moved south and interbred with the GTNP herd, have GTNP Bison moved North and bred with YNP bison in the Old Faithful/West Thumb Area?

  22. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    It is true that three females (a mature cow with 2 juvenile females; most likely her offspring) moved down to GTNP in the winter of 1996/97, most likely in search of forage. We all know what a rough winter that was! It was a movement to lower elevation…no movement of GTNP bison to YNP has been documented. And why would they? They get fed all winter and movement into YNP would be to a higher elevation and much deeper snowpack…not in their best interest in the winter. And, bison always take the path of least resistance when they can!

    Oh, Bob…please read the literature!! Start with Todd Ward’s PhD Dissertation (2000), and George Coder’s PhD dissertation (1975). The history of hybridization of bison with cattle has been well documented…in fact all of the initial genetic studies began with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)which is only maternally inherited. All of the bison herds that had a history of hybridization with cattle exhibited a high proportion (nearly 100%) of cattle mtDNA types…because female cattle gave birth to ALL of the 1st generation hybrids.

    Bison are going to breed with other bison, regardless of whether they are plains, wood, or the elusive “mountain” bison and not haphazardly breed with another species! There is already interbreeding ongoing between plains and wood bison in areas of Wood Bison National Park where their ranges overlap…so the putative subspecies designation assigned by humans does not pose any barriers. The idea that bison would breed with cattle instead of another putative subspecies of bison is preposterous!

    Ecotypes do not constitute subspecies…they are simply an ecological expression of phenotypic plasticity.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      You seem to know a lot about this issue. Do you know anyone who would be willing to finish a half written ESA petition?

      Also, what do you make of the statement on the Wikipedia entry about beefalo? “Accidental crosses were noticed as far back as 1749 in the southern English colonies of North America.”

      It’s not sourced so I have no idea where it comes from. It also doesn’t mention anything about their fertility which I doubt they had given what seems to be a very rare natural event which would depend on the sex of the individual parents and the luck of the draw.

    2. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      Interbreeding has a lot more to do with the infrastructure level of that population …whether interbreeding is contained within that species or combined with other closely allaigned species.

      A look at human expansion shows how a well infrastructured population will willingly take in “strangers”. But they are “welcome” only to the extent of giving of those genes. Look at Eskimo traditions or any South Seas populations welcoming in those first European explorers.

      But take any population and shatter it to where that population is in danger of surviving and that population (species) will do anything to preserve itself. If it means a red wolf has to breed with a coyote it will. When numbers are sufficient to build infrastructure base then that population takes care of genes it doesn’t find beneficial to its survival.

      In recent native american history, with the break up of Plains tribes, some refuge camps contained over 5,000 indians and ten languages. The tepees were all massed together with hardly any clumping of cohesive bands. To the outsider it was just another tribe of indians but to those in that camp it was a chaotic existence.

      Thus it is biologists seeing events, such as interbreeding between cattle and bison, without knowing why…or worse yet try to come up with results …..where they know little of what makes up a herd animals social structure.

      The same goes for any Woods Bison breeding with Plains. I’d have to surmise the melding in this case has more to do with fracturing of both herds…..Less likely, maybe the warming trend means the land is more conducive to Plains bison genes.

      And as for cattle genes in bison when I gave my speech at the American Bison Society meeting in Rapid City the Dept of Interior geneticist hurried to me after the break and enthusiastically proposed checking my herd for cattle genes and then eliminating those animals that showed those cattle genes.

      And then supposedly , ta da, I’d have “pure” American bison. What a match made in heaven, a private herd with both well defined social infrastructure and Aryan purity.

      My point is why did they think I had some bison with whiteness and others off color? Of course this is what those gene guys are doing to a lot of public herds today….making them be born again. Ya, and with those few 12 marker genes tested for, we can determine that all my buffalo are pure as the driven snow? Come on.

      But PHD’S believe this stuff. Another example. I did consulting on Tom Brokaws bison herd. Tom said he’d like to donate maybe 30 animals to the American Sarengetti cause.
      I then got ahold of these Sarengetti guys.

      What happened? Purity being number 1 they sampled 12 of the herd. 3 came up with cattle genes. So anguish amoungst scientists. What do they do? They wanted the publicity and support from someone like Brokaw but with non Aryan genes how could they? Thus the proposal to accept all without cattle genes. But then more anguist and purity needs of the whole herd won out …. and it was with heads down a rejection of that herd.

      I wanted to go a step further. I ask, what if by the luck of the draw those 12 were 100% bison. Their answer was without doubt. They would have accepted all thirty for their Aryan camp.

      Thats how it was with Wind Cave and their supossedly pure bison…with Custer just across a fence… a fence that historically held back few from crossing time to time over the years with Custers Jewish traits.

      You get what I am saying? It makes little sense, all this purity stuff. I say culture and infrastructure is the only way to judge degree of ecological compatability and sustainability. Presently we have Nazi Aryan talk and action going on in scholarly actions. It won’t work. Just as it will be impossible to keep fractured pure bison herds “pure” if in the end they are allowed to populate out of Yellowstone.

      They either will be sabatoged with cattle or “plains” genes by those not wanting the restictions placed on “endangered” or you will have fractured hunted bison running in cattle herds. It is that simple.

      1. JB Avatar


        Clearly there are some domestic cattle genes that are potentially deleterious for bison–I think we can agree on that. Moreover, some genes that do not appear to have any measurable effects initially, could prove to be deleterious at some point in the future–and determining if bison carry cattle genes requires time-consuming and expensive tests. Of course, deleterious genes could potentially be “bred out” of bison later, but at what cost?
        Finally, the ESA is none too friendly to hybrids; if they are not recognized as a species, subspecies or distinct population of species or subspecies, then that population is not a listable entity. For all of these reasons, it behooves people (regardless of their educational status) interested in recovering bison in some portion of their range to seek genetically pure animals for the foundation of future populations. Your constant allusions to Nazis and their Aryan nation obscure these facts, and imply some nefarious intent that simply isn’t there. Rather, what I see are people interested in bison conservation who are attempting to re-establish populations in a pragmatic fashion.

        Also, please realize that when geneticists make decisions about what genetic markers to look for they are attempting to maximize their probability of finding a particular type of gene (in your case, one from cattle). While you express skepticism about this technique, you don’t back up this skepticism with any substance? What was their probability of detecting cattle genes based upon the 12 markers they identified and examined? Without these facts, we have no way of evaluating your claims. It is just your opinion, no matter how vehemently it is asserted.

        Finally, the constant barrage of insults you send toward biologists, scientists, managers, and PhDs (and anyone else who disagrees with you) leave the impression of someone who is biased and jaded, and actually serve to diminish the persuasiveness of your messages. Just a though–you may want to ease up a little.

      2. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        My brother taught at a major college. I have no problem with normal academia…just those who think the world is flat …..which behavior herd biolgists have a firm hold on.

        whithout understanding how bottlenecks happen, how herd animals use social families to better themselves evolutionary, how social order means it is not just random sorting of individuals for gene preferrance…and how extended families are the key to disease prevention…then errors of assessment of genetics are doomed to failure. It all is just symptom solutions.

        Of course here is one for you that laymen solve much better than those groups of PHD’s universities fly me to for my assessments.

        The question is, “Can an animal pass on its genes without ever having offspring”?. The answer of course is yes. Ken are you listening? Quack, Quack, quack.

      3. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        While you express skepticism about this technique, you don’t back up this skepticism with any substance? What was their probability of detecting cattle genes based upon the 12 markers they identified and examined? Without these facts, we have no way of evaluating your claims. It is just your opinion, no matter how vehemently it is asserted.

  23. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    My 8:18 Am post seems to be missing…all except the quote of JB’s which I put first … to respond to his post….(“like it is just your opinion, man”. (as said by the dude in the Big Leboski). Ralph, is the rest of my response out in space?


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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