The Royal Teton Ranch deal gets underway.

Church Universal and Triumphant paid about $285 $314 per AUM under the $3 million deal

Buffalo calf at Stephens Creek capture facility, Yellowstone National Park.
Buffalo calf at Stephens Creek capture facility, Yellowstone National Park.

Articles about how the perennial saga of hazing, capturing, slaughtering, and hunting bison is starting once again in and around Yellowstone National Park. There is one change this year though that has left me scratching my head. This is the first year where bison leaving Yellowstone from the northern entrance of the Park near Gardiner, Montana are going to be allowed to use the Church Universal and Triumphant’s (CUT) Royal Teton Ranch (RTR) under an agreement with the National Park Service, Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, and National Wildlife Federation.

The $3 million $3.3 million deal would initially allow 25 bison to use the RTR but only after they have been captured in the Stephens Creek capture facility just inside the Park boundary. They then would be subjected to squeeze chutes where they would have blood samples, fecal samples, taken from them and pregnant females would have vaginal transmitters placed in them so that biologists would be informed of the location where they give birth. Over time the deal might eventually allow up to 100 untested bison each year.

The RTR has constructed high electric fencing to keep the bison out of many areas of the ranch but this eliminates movement of other species as well such as the isolated and imperiled population of pronghorn which inhabit the area, bighorn sheep, elk and deer. Essentially it is a corridor to nowhere for bison.

On top of this the bison will only be allowed to stay on the RTR until April 15th of each year and, just like a big arena concert, there is no re-entry if the bison decide to do what bison are famed for doing and “roam” out of the RTR back to the Park. In addition April 15th is right in the midst of calving season so every year the pregnant, calving mothers and their calves will still be subjected to hazing.

While many of the groups tout this deal as a “hugely critical first step that creates an important template for resolving the Yellowstone bison controversy” I strongly doubt that it is and hope that it is not.

Why do I and others say that? Well, lets look at the simple economics of the deal.

First, let’s figure that the buffalo are going to tend to come out of the Park at this time of year each year and be allowed to stay out until April 15. That’s 3 1/2 months. So, if 100 are allowed each year for that period of time that would be 350 Animal Unit Months (AUMs) per year. For 30 years that comes out to be a total of 10,500 AUMs. Divide $3,000,000 $3,300,000 by 10,500 and you get about $285 $314 per AUM. That’s a hell of a deal for the Church Universal and Triumphant when you consider that the going rate per AUM for a calf/cow pair on private lands in Montana during 2009 was $20.20 and only $1.35 for public lands. Of course the actual number of AUMs that these groups will be paying for are probably much less since the bison don’t leave the Park every year in those numbers and if they leave they don’t get to come back.

Another issue that arises is the risk that capturing these buffalo might increase the risk that brucellosis might further be spread to bison inside the capture facility.  When asked by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign’s media coordinator, Rick Wallen, Yellowstone National Park’s bison biologist, about this he concurred that it was the case.

Dare I say that this whole thing is one big boondoggle at the expense of taxpayers and a bunch of gullible “conservationists”?

The article that appeared today explains more about the issue.

Groups split on bison project
Jackson Hole Daily.


  1. WM Avatar


    Not to get too much of track here, but what is with CUT, and its ownership of the Royal Teton Ranch?

    Wikipedia says RTR was purchased by the late CUT founder Elizabeth Prophet, who seems to be some sort of new age religious guru (forgive my sarcasm here by my mind wonders to the Bagwhan Rashneesh and his now defunct compound at Antelope, OR – and by the way the ranch is now owned by Denny Washington, owner of Montana Rail Link and huge contractor, as a Christian youth camp).

    I am just trying to figure out who the players are, what are their interests, and where this reportedly $3M bison access deal is ultimately going. Can you shed any light on this?

    1. PointsWest Avatar

      Rashneeshpuram…those were the days. Let’t me tell you, some of thos Rashneeshy chicks were hot. Never did understand why the rednecks ran them out of Oregon.

      1. WM Avatar

        Interesting interview (5 parts from June 2008 with MT TV reporter) with the eldest, and estranged, son of Elizabeth Prophet on the operations of CUT. Also, The RTR was at one time the Malcomb Forbes Ranch until the early 1980’s, I understand.

        The CUT memberhsip has many similarities with the Baghwan’s operation, but appears they were/are more successful:

        Quite honestly some of this is unbelieveable.

      2. PointsWest Avatar

        Rashneeshpuram didn’t fail…it was destroyed. They had plenty of followers and had no trouble with growth. The rednecks in Oregon got them. The main issue was, I believe, Bagwan’s belief in free love. Remember, Christianity is a chastising religion…very similar to the wolf pack sociology. The alpha male and alpha female maintain their dominance by chastising all other members of the pack. They keep all the other members in a state of puppyhood so the pack is like an extended family. Wolf who so much as flirt with each other are attacked and may be killed by the alphas.

        Western society (and other societies) are similar. When it got out that that Rashneeshpuram was a haven of free love, Oregonians set out to destroy it and they succeeded in short order.

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      Where did you get the info that the ranch is owned by Denny Washington? This article from yesterday in the Bozeman Chronicle says CUT too.

      It also says the deal is $3.3 million so my estimate of how much is paid per AUM just shot up to $314.

      1. WM Avatar


        Reference to Denny W. was to the Baghwan’s Antelope Ranch. Sorry if that was not clear.

      2. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        $314 per AUM is a VERY good deal for the church. A true ag value for outright purchase of the AUMs might be half that.

        While you note the difference between the subsidized federal grazing fees and the private land rates (which are similar to those in ID), it’s not quite so dramatic in reality. A private land fee of $20/AUM usually includes full medical care and staff time. Without those included, the private land rate is more like $12-14/AUM.

        I’m wondering one thing on your math…do you know if a cow is equivalent to a bison when it comes to forage consumed? My sense is that a bison is larger, so the ratio might not be 1:1.

      3. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
        Petticoat Rebellion

        Actually AUM’s for bison should be lower because they have more efficient digestive systems and grazing patterns thereby requiring less feed.

      4. WM Avatar


        It appears the cow=bison is pretty close for AUM computations, and under some circumstances bison eat less (3 bison = 2 cows), are more efficient, and tend to move a bit more lessening impacts. Bison also appear to eat more browse, especially bulls.


      5. WM Avatar

        Where is Bob Jackson when you need his expertise?

      6. Ken Cole Avatar

        Tom Page.

        This isn’t a buyout per se. It is as if they are paying $314 for an actual AUM not $314 to buy out an AUM over a series of years. They are paying the church $314 to graze 1 buffalo for one month and even that is a generous calculation based on full use by as many buffalo as could possibly use the church property.

        This is an obscene scam.

      7. Ken Cole Avatar

        FYI I checked the bison AUM conversion before I wrote this story and found a couple of references that said 1:1. Here is one:

      8. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        Yes, I understand that it’s a lease, not a buyout. That’s why I mentioned that these numbers would be extremely high even for an outright purchase.

        Thanks to all for your help on the AUM conversions.

  2. WM Avatar

    Sort of a follow-up: Is CUT solvent (writings seem to suggest church membership is down and some disharmony, lack of leadership and mission, etc.), and any chance the ranch might be available at some point for public purchase?

    1. Elk275 Avatar

      The ranch was divided into 20 acre tracts just before the law changed. It would be expensive.

      1. Save bears Avatar

        And I think with the way things are going, your not going to see much in the way of buying property in the next few years!

  3. Virginia Avatar

    The wildlife decisions these groups support continues to validate the reason I do not give them any money.

    1. PointsWest Avatar

      I wonder if bison on Noah’s Ark were carrying brucellosis. Anyone know, off hand, how many species or subspecies of bison Noah had on his ark?

      1. PointsWest Avatar

        You know, if the bison didn’t carry the brucellosis, it must have been something else like the cows. How else could it have survived the great flood?

  4. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Wow! Radio Collars for all the bison and implanted vaginal transmitters for all of the females! I think that all of the human participants in this idiocy should be implanted(without K-Y jelly) with a large anal transmitter.

    1. Izabela Hadd Avatar
      Izabela Hadd are so right.Your rock!..I am sitting here in Salt Lake and wonder WTF is going on..WTF is worng with us humans? How in the world we either want to kill all predators or harass the bison or implant something..and all for the piece of BEEF!

  5. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    I applaud for Mr.Wallen for having the bravery to admit that holding pregnant bison in the capture facility increases the risk of transmission. He is correct. For example, suppose there are 300 seronegative bison and one infected bison in the capture facility. When the infected bison gives birth or loses her calf, all 300 bison are then potentially exposed. It’s no different than congregating infected and uninfected elk together at the feed grounds. Brucellosis is a frequency-dependent transmitted disease, meaning that risk is minimized when contact between infected and uninfected individuals is reduced. Here’s the challenge though, if they want capture and test for a quarantine program…how do they minimize risk of transmission? I would suggest constant monitoring by trained personnel (not vaginal transponders) and isolating any pregnant females as soon as they show any signs of labor or discharge. But, this is easier said than done.

    If there has to be a quarantine program, which has both negatives and positives. It would be great to see these bison from the quarantine program go to the Tribes first, then restored on public lands as well, not going to the highest millionaire bidder! Having said that though, my preference is for tolerance of wild Yellowstone bison on their seasonal ranges outside park boundaries that would accommodate a viable, wild, free-ranging population.

    Control the controllable: CATTLE, vaccinate them, keep them in fences!

    1. Ron Kearns Avatar
      Ron Kearns

      I agree that this program is abjectly foolish. I have worked with livestock and wildlife throughout my life in various ranch/farm-related and professional employment capacities, including as a senior veterinary animal specialist.

      Notwithstanding the advanced scientific discoveries and abundant practical experience we have gained over the last century and a half, the more ignorant the government and their complicit NGO conservationist enablers—albeit well intentioned; nonetheless misinformed—have become.

      1. mikarooni Avatar

        I too have “worked with livestock and wildlife throughout my life” and I will tell you that the issue with Yellowstone bison is not about brucellosis; infected elk and other wildlife are jumping fences and mingling with cattle hundreds of miles away from Yellowstone, the higher the elk numbers, the higher the risk. Do we solve it by blaming it on and take it out on free-ranging wildlife, bison or otherwise? No, you do indeed “manage” this imported English disease (Herefords gave us more than just fatty beef) by, as Petticoat Rebellion pointed out, controlling the “controllable” and that does mean vaccinating cattle, changing fence laws to force livestock operators (including me) to keep their cattle on their property, and stepping up testing and monitoring efforts while simultaneously “de-victimizing” the hapless individual rancher who happens to get a hot elk over his fence at the wrong time.

        Finally, I am also against bison going to the highest bidder; but, I am also tired of seeing Turner get beaten up for recognizing the value of pure genetics and making what is actually not a bad offer to try to rescue, sustain, and grow a larger pool of these pure genetics while also cleaning up his own herd genetics a bit.

        Anytime you keep a population constrained and continually culled for a long period of time, you are forcing the population through a genetic bottleneck and are going to lose odd bits of genetic bandwidth off the edges. The Yellowstone bison population, still pure, is the remnant of a horrific culling that took place over a century ago and has been and is still being constrained and continually culled since then. Regardless of what some state or other agency biostitutes are saying, this is a recipe for genetic bottlenecking and loss. Over 90% of the bison in existence, including Turner’s herds, are hybridized with cattle from mixing done in the late 19th and early 20th century. If Turner’s operations were only out for money, they wouldn’t care; but, they are expending time and money and effort to try to clean out some of this hybridization are return at least some of their herds to pure status. Conserving pure bison genetics for conservation reasons is the only reason to bother with this pitiful handful of wild and difficult animals; there is no and will not be, in the foreseeable future, any significant business reason for a corporation on the Turner scale.

        Yes, my heart is with the tribes on this issue; I support my own people; but, Turner stepped up to go after these bison because 1) the state actually wants them dead and will use any excuse to get them into that condition; 2) the tribes were not and still are not so clearly prepared to take the animals that they can fight the corrupt politics; and 3) Turner and their money can prove readiness, regardless of the cost to meet the standard, and their money and clout can fight the politics. Yes, Turner is going to use a bunch of the offspring to reintroduce clean genetics into his herds, again for conservation reasons because there is no real business reason, and, if they didn’t, the state would accuse them of being just a pass-through to the tribes.

        Keeping these animals in quarantine is not doing them any good. Continuing to fight over them is not doing them any good. Again, my heart is with the tribes on this issue; I support my own people; but, these animals need to go up to Turner’s place where they can have some room, can get better care, and, most important, can reproduce their precious genetics freely and without further state interference. The Turner operation is not the enemy and the tribes will do the right thing and benefit more by focusing on the bison and not tribal rights issues in this particular case.

      2. mikarooni Avatar

        PS: With regard to this other hazing effort in connection with the CUT lease, the CUT deals stink. As Ralph knows, I was one of the first to raise concerns about dealing with CUT many years ago when the first deal was on the table. We raise a stink about Turner and his offer for the quarantine group; but, it’s CUT that we cannot trust, never could and will never be able to. Those people are not trustworthy. I hate to blame the GYC for brokering the deal; but, this situation points out the risk of “collaboration.” You have to be as slick as those with whom you’re collaborating (conservationists usually aren’t) and you have to scrutinize every detail with the eye of a gypsy lawyer (and conservationists usually aren’t that kind of people). The truth is that this CUT deal is a disaster continuing to unfold and, when the final tally is done, the GYC will have brokered the waste of tens of millions of conservation dollars that could have gone to other, productive, efforts.

      3. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
        Petticoat Rebellion

        The tribes have “stepped up” multiple times and have been trying to work with the state to get these bison only to face obstructionism. For example, Northern Arapaho applied for bison from the first and second year of quarantine (2008 and 2009), while Fort Peck applied for bison in the third year (2010), the current group of bison now held at Corwin Springs. Fort Peck requested the third group so that the Tribes could perform the public meetings and prepare the bison holding facilities and pasture necessary, developments which take time and effort as well as funding to complete. Fort Peck’s two years of advance notice also gave Montana ample time to consider their proposal and, if found to be insufficient, to provide the Tribes with further input or request additional information.

        Based on the pre-proposals received, FWP selected Northern Arapaho to receive the first bison. No response was given to Fort Peck’s request at that time. Due to internal politics the General Council at Wind River voted not to accept the first cohort of bison. After Wind River turned them down, Fort Belknap submitted a proposal requesting the animals. However, the Fort Belknap Tribes were never provided a direct response from FWP and only found out their request was denied through the newspaper. Instead of working with the Tribes to take these bison, Montana asked Ted Turner to take them, which he did through an agreement that returns these bison and 25 percent of their offspring to FWP in five years.

        Since their original request for bison, the Fort Peck Tribes have proceeded with plans to ready facilities for these animals. They applied for and received Intertribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC) Herd Development Grants in 2007, 2008 and 2009. With these funds and private donations, they installed two solar water wells and additional stock tanks and added an additional range unit for pasture. They also strengthened or replaced fencing on two adjacent range unit pastures and fenced the new range unit that would be used for the Yellowstone bison. As stated, this work was a cooperative effort with many partners who provided funding and assistance including the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Defenders of Wildlife and the Steele Reese Foundation. The Tribes also provided a general prospectus on how the Yellowstone bison would be managed as a cultural herd, not for profit.

        Thus, all of the stated requirements have been completed in preparation for taking these bison as a result of substantial funding outlay and the efforts of not only the Fort Peck Tribes, but also a multitude of partners who want to see this happen. Some 5,000 acres of pasture with new wildlife friendly fencing and infrastructure are now ready at Fort Peck. Yet, the FWP believes the facilities are not adequate. This despite the fact no one from the State ever came to look at the facilities, although they were invited on several occasions.

        In addition, Fort Belknap has obtained funding from Defenders of Wildlife to begin fencing the pastures they have allocated for Yellowstone bison. Several additional funding partners have expressed interest in helping the Tribes in this effort, but it is difficult to secure private funding without greater assurance that the Tribes will eventually receive some of the Yellowstone bison. They can not really proceed with an outlay of funds and the needed work without some indication or security that they will receive quarantined bison. Yet, at the same time, they are told they won’t receive bison because their current facilities are not adequate.

        The Tribes of Fort Peck and Fort Belknap are willing to work together to conserve these bison. Any animals allocated to Fort Belknap could potentially go to Fort Peck now to be held until such time as Fort Belknap completes fencing on their pastures. Both Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations also offer the potential for significant growth in terms of area available to bison in the future. With some 5,000 acres at Fort Peck and 23,000 acres at Fort Belknap, both programs have expanded their bison programs in recent years and are committed to further expansion in the future. But the question remains…Is Montana is still committed to providing Yellowstone bison to Tribal Nations? It does not appear so at this time. Word on the street is that APHIS recently suggested sending spayed and castrated bison to the Tribes as an alternative to slaughter. The reasoning behind this was that this would give the Tribes an “opportunity” to demonstrate that they are capable of managing bison…this is an affront to the intelligence of Tribes who are already collectively managing more bison than federal and state herds combined!

        Under tribal “management” herds flourished in the millions…under non-tribal management bison were nearly extirpated, currently ecologically extinct from >95 % of their former range, 95% exist on private ranches where they are subjected to domestication and hybridization with cattle, and have been exposed to introduced domestic livestock diseases. Given these facts, I think the Tribes deserve, above everyone else, the chance to demonstrate their ability to manage un-altered, genetically pure Yellowstone bison.

      4. mikarooni Avatar

        Petticoat Rebellion, I absolutely agree with everything you have said. By all rights, the tribes should get the bison. Corrupt politics within the state are the problem and the ridiculous and insulting idea of sending only neutered animals to the tribes is proof. Those are facts of life. I don’t believe Turner is driving the politics or the corruption; they have bigger fish to fry and can buy bison cheaper than this deal. But, Turner scale money and clout can get past the politics and get these bison genetics saved and possibly provide some options for the future. If Turner were not in the picture, I believe these animals would be neutered at best and slaughtered immediately in all probability; that’s the ugly truth of the powers behind the DOL and FWP. Under these circumstances, I’d rather see us take what we can get in terms of saving these particular animals and genetics and work to get some benefits from them through Turner later. It’s not the right thing for tribal rights, reinforces discrimination and bad precedent; but, it’s saves these animals for further breeding and I’d rather give up the baby in hopes of seeing it live and grow than have an evil version Solomon cut it down the middle and kill it now.

      5. Ron Kearns Avatar
        Ron Kearns

        Petticoat Reb & mikarooni,

        This is an excellent discussion.

  6. Ken Cole Avatar

    You know, I forgot to mention the $13 million that the CUT received for wildlife habitat. What a boondoggle this whole thing has been.

    1. WM Avatar


      To the extent you feel comfortable discussing this, who is behind it all. Player, interests etc?

      What ever happened to separation of church and state, particularly where an entity is directly involved in a business pursuit, which is not related to its religous activities? Presumably they do their taxes right.

      1. mikarooni Avatar

        Based on my observations, CUT is, always has been, and always will be a grotesquely corrupt pack of charlatans. It looked like a pyramid scheme designed to bilk new age California twinkies from the beginning with promises of a commune share in some kind of cosmic life. When they moved to MT and couldn’t build a doomsday bomb shelter big enough to hold everybody who had bought in, their “prophet” conveniently checked out with a sudden case of dementia and couldn’t answer for where the money went. The whole thing was stinky from the start; but, the GYC swaggered in like rubes from the local high school summer camp off to spend the night at a traveling gypsy carnival and brokered the first ~$13 million deal. They were supposed to have secured bison grazing rights, albeit very expensive ones, from that deal; but, CUT had fine print in the agreement, kept the money, and stalled for years and years while not one bison got to even set foot on the supposed lease. Then, GYC still couldn’t seem to figure things out and went back in and arranged for another ~$3.3 million to go to CUT and got the current pitiful deal in return. The GYC and the organizations that still let them have any money to blow at all seem to be total disasters, so much for collaborators.

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        WM I’ll just let mickarooni’s feelings about the matter kind of fill in for mine. I’m not intimately familiar with the history of the deals with the CUT but from what I’ve heard over the years I think mickarooni explains about the same that I’ve been told.

        For years the area around the northern entrance has been a killing field even after the CUT received the $13 million and I predict the same will be the case this year too, unfortunately. Even with the so called tolerance gained with the $3.3 million.

        I have seen my share of hazing events that ended in hundreds of bison being captured and sent to slaughter. I have also been able to watch the processing of bison at the capture facility and heard all of the canned responses by the Park Service while on a media tour there. It’s the same livestock industry crap over and over.

    2. Ron Kearns Avatar
      Ron Kearns

      This deal seems ripe for a journalistic exposé.

      Ken Cole, your casual comment about forgetting to mention the mere $13 million was funny—I assumed that either you are a millionaire yourself, or this deal is so outrageous that the millions already foolishly spent forces a rational mind to ignore it as a safety mechanism to maintain sanity. Unconditionally, I agree, what a mess.

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        Believe me, I’m no millionaire. There was a tinge of sarcasm in my statement.

      2. Save bears Avatar


        Are any of us that happen to work in this field? not hardly!


      3. mikarooni Avatar

        Ron, I love your comment… “This deal seems ripe for a journalistic exposé.” I presume you haven’t noticed who owns the mass media in this country, how many of the executives are interchangeable between the news orgs, or why they bothered to buy it all, even old CNN, in the first place. We all pretty much recognize the skewed garbage that FuxNEWS spews; they’re not very subtle and it’s pretty easy to get the picture there and some would even tell you that they deliberately do it that way to make the other news outlets look credible by comparison. But, get up early some morning or come home in the evening and switch your television back and forth between the various news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC. There are literally thousands of newsworthy stories that should be covered on any given day; however, all three supposedly independent network news groups consistently cover exactly the same half dozen stories, half of them cute human interest pieces that have little or no bearing on the information the public needs to make informed choices, and they generally cover these stories with exactly the same “angles” and exactly the same three or four talking head interviewees, every day. That isn’t coincidence.

        Good luck with getting that “journalistic exposé.” Just don’t be shocked when, if you get it at all, it gets covered by all the news outlets at once and with a slant on the take home message that you might not expect or welcome.


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.

We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ken Cole