*NEWS: Conservationists Seek Emergency Injunction To Prevent Yellowstone Bison Slaughter

Conservationists Seek Emergency Injunction To

Prevent Slaughter of Yellowstone Bison

Harsh Winter Conditions May Lead to Repeat of 2008 Slaughter


Tom Woodbury, Western Watersheds Project: (406) 830-3099
Dan Brister, Buffalo Field Campaign: (406) 726-5555
Mike Mease, Buffalo Field Campaign: (406) 646-0071
Glenn Hockett, Gallatin Wildlife Association: (406) 581-6352

Bison in deep snow © Ken Cole
Bison in deep snow © Ken Cole

HELENA, MONTANA – A coalition of conservation groups, Native Americans, and Montanans filed an urgent motion for injunctive relief in federal court today to prevent a repeat of the 2008 slaughter of over 1400 wild bison captured on public wildlands near the border of Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

Many of the same factors that contributed to the mass slaughter in 2008, including heavy snowpack, bison population size, and the continuing agency intolerance for migrating bison, are in place this year as well.

With the Stephens Creek bison trap inside the Park already near capacity, and more bison migrating toward their natural winter range in Montana to forage at lower elevations, Park Service Spokesperson Al Nash indicated that the agencies may begin sending hundreds of bison off to slaughter whether they carry the disease brucellosis or not.  While it is concern over the possible transmission of brucellosis to cattle that is the justification offered for preventing bison from utilizing their winter range in Montana, at the present time there are no cattle present in the bison’s winter range corridor, and no risk of transmission.  And that, according to the Plaintiffs challenging the bison management plan in federal court, perfectly illustrates why the plan needs to be scrapped.

“One of the twin goals of the bison management plan is ‘to ensure the wild and free-ranging nature of American bison’,” said Tom Woodbury, Montana Director for Western Watersheds Project, “but ten years into the plan, there is still zero tolerance for bison being bison on our public wildlands.”

The Plaintiffs have been waiting for a final decision from federal Judge Charles Lovell on the merits of their lawsuit since September.  Their main contentions are that the Forest Service is legally obligated to allow bison to inhabit the Gallatin National Forest outside Yellowstone National Park, that bison management is based on politics and not science, and that repeated slaughters of substantial portions of the bison population threaten its genetic integrity.  Plaintiffs are asking the court to enjoin or restrain the agencies from lethal removal of bison in and around Yellowstone National Park, as well as the continuing use of capture facilities like the one at Stephens Creek to capture bison for the purpose of either confining them for extended periods or processing them before shipping them off to slaughter-houses.

According to one of the Plaintiffs’ experts, long-time Gallatin area resident Glenn Hockett, “The alternative to slaughter that they’ve ignored is habitat.” If freed from the trap and allowed to access their winter range, according to Hockett, bison would pose little or no real problem.

“There is no good reason to slaughter these magnificent creatures when substantial conflict-free winter range habitat is available to these bison outside the Park at this time both on public and private land,” Hockett, a professional range ecologist and Volunteer President of Gallatin Wildlife Association said.  Hockett informed the court that “thousands of acres of cattle-free, critical winter range habitat is available to bison in the direction the trapped bison are migrating towards on both public and private land, near Dome Mountain,” including more than 5,000 acres on the Gallatin National Forest, 5,000 acres on the bison-tolerant Dome Mountain Ranch, and nearly 5,000 acres in the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area.  Hockett also informed the court that the only two ranchers with cattle in the area this time of year, Hank Rate and Bill Hoppe, are not opposed to free-roaming bison.

“Who exactly are the agencies serving by repeating the senseless slaughter of 2008?” Hockett asks.

Rosebud Sioux tribal elder Rosalie Little Thunder, chairperson for Plaintiff Seventh Generation Fund, expressed the Native American perspective on the prospective slaughter. “The continuing slaughter of wild buffalo by the National Park Service is an affront to indigenous peoples,” Little Thunder said, “and an abrogation of the government’s trust responsibilities to the American people and American Tribes.”

According to the motion filed Wednesday in Helena:

“Years of mass bison removal  led Park Service biologists to register concerns about the adverse impacts the removals and population fluctuations have on the genetics, social structure, and population demographics of the bison population, and they have warned that continuing those removals could result in irreparable harm. The Park Service further documented stress, injury and harm to bison when they are held in confinement at the Stephens Creek trap for release months later.”

Attorneys for the federal agencies have indicated to Plaintiffs that they will file a response on Monday, and the Court is expected to rule promptly thereafter.  Should Judge Lovell deny their request, Plaintiffs have the option of proceeding immediately to the Circuit Court of Appeals for emergency relief.

The Yellowstone bison population includes America’s last continuously wild herds, and is the last population that still follows its migratory instincts.  As unique native herbivores that evolved across the North American continent, scientists believe bison can help restore the native grasslands, sagebrush steppes, and prairie ecosystems that are considered to be some of the most endangered habitats in the world.



WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT is a regional, membership, not-for-profit conservation organization, dedicated to protecting and conserving the public lands and natural resources of watersheds in the American West.  WWP has its headquarters at the Greenfire Preserve in Custer County, Idaho; and is supported by more than 1,400 members located throughout the United States, including in Montana.     WWP’s Montana office is in Missoula, and it also has offices and other staff in Boise, Hailey, and Salmon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and California.  Through these staff, and with the assistance of numerous unpaid members and supporters, WWP is deeply involved in seeking to improve livestock grazing management on federal and state public lands, including on the federal lands at issue in this case.  WWP is also involved in seeking to protect native wildlife and their habitat across the west, including bison and sage grouse.

BUFFALO FIELD CAMPAIGN is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone’s wild bison, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor the sacredness of the wild bison.  BFC has its headquarters in West Yellowstone, Gallatin County, Montana, and is supported by volunteers and participants around the world who value America’s native wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend, and enjoy the natural wonders of our National Parks and Forests.

TATANKA OYATE is a project of the Seventh Generation Fund, an Indigenous nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and maintaining the uniqueness of Native peoples throughout the Americas. Tatanka Oyate works to protect and restore the habitat of the last wild bison population in Yellowstone and create awareness for protecting and preserving sacred species in the plains region, an area of special significance to Native cultures.  Tatanka Oyate was organized specifically to find the means to protect the genetically unique Yellowstone bison population.

GALLATIN WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION is a non-profit wildlife conservation organization based in Gallatin County, Montana.  GWA represents concerned hunters and anglers in Southwest Montana and elsewhere.  GWA is an affiliate of the Montana Wildlife Federation, which is an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.                   GWA is supported and run by volunteers, who advocate for adequate habitat for native wildlife, and opportunities for the public to view, hunt, and otherwise enjoy such wildlife and public lands.

NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS COUNCIL is a non-profit Montana corporation with its principal place of business at Willow Creek, Gallatin County.  Native Ecosystems Council is dedicated to the conservation of natural resources and the preservation of the Gallatin National Forest.  NEC has participated extensively in administrative actions to protect these forests from environmentally damaging plans and activities, and to protect native wildlife and their habitat.

Contact: Dr. Sara Jane Johnson (406) 285-3611

MEGHAN GILL is an individual who resides in Missoula, Montana in Missoula County.  Gill is a former volunteer and staff member of the Buffalo Field Campaign, and has been concerned about and involved with the issue of bison management for several years.  Since 2000, Ms. Gill has annually visited areas in and around Yellowstone National Park for the express purpose of viewing bison and other native wildlife in their natural habitat, and for advocating for their right and need to have year-round access to habitat outside of YNP.

CHARLES (CHUCK) IRESTONE is an individual who resides in Missoula, Montana in Missoula County.  Irestone has been involved with advocacy for bison and other native species since 1998.  Mr. Irestone has visited Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas numerous times annually since 1994.  Mr. Irestone considers the Yellowstone bison the iconic symbol of our nation and a guide to our path of sustainability.  Wild bison in the GYE and Mr. Irestone’s bison advocacy work inspired Mr. Irestone to cofound the Sustainable Business Council in Missoula.  Every year, Mr. Irestone hikes in the back country of Yellowstone to see the bison in their natural setting, and intends to continue to do so.

DANIEL BRISTER is an individual who resides in Arlee, Montana in Lake County.  Brister is a staff member of the BFC, and has been involved with bison advocacy since December, 1997.  Mr. Brister travels to West Yellowstone regularly to conduct work for BFC, and to view wild bison in their native habitat.  Mr. Brister first visited YNP in 1992, and was particularly moved by seeing wild bison in the area.  He derives aesthetic, spiritual, cultural, and recreational enjoyment and benefits from viewing wild bison undisturbed in their native habitat, and his interests and enjoyment of the wild bison are injured by the agencies’ management actions that harm the bison, and threaten the future integrity of bison populations in the GYE.

Buffalo Field Campaign is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone’s wild bison, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor the sacredness of wild bison.  BFC has its headquarters in West Yellowstone, Montana, and is supported by volunteers and participants around the world who value America’s native wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

For more information visit Buffalo Field Campaign on the web http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org

Read the Court Documents :

Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order
Brief in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order
Supporting Declaration – Darrell Geist
Supporting Declaration – Glenn Hockett


  1. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Thanks, Ken, for quickly posting this. Those of us in the field here don’t have email access, and it helps to read this before we head back.

    Am I reading this correctly that they won’t rule until Monday? That means they could ship to slaughter before then?

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      No, it just means that the agencies will file their briefs by Monday. I’m not sure, but I don’t think that the agencies can take any action beforehand.

      “Attorneys for the federal agencies have indicated to Plaintiffs that they will file a response on Monday, and the Court is expected to rule promptly thereafter.”

  2. Cindy Avatar

    A big Thank You to all associated with getting this injunction filed. I dream of the day I have free time to get more involved than I’m able to do right now. I really really hope there’s not a need for me to attend another “Releasing of the Buffalo Spirits” ceremony this Spring at the Stephens Creek death camp. Although the ceremony was beautiful, the heaviness of death and destruction could not be ignored. I’ve mentioned this before, but I laid my hand across a buffalo print in the dirt, closed by eyes, felt the sting of the cold wind in my face and just imagined what that beautiful creature must have felt while standing there, waiting to be loaded into those ghastly trucks, by what seems to be very mean people. Was it a new Papa? A wise old matriarch? A sassy young wanderer? Who knows…

  3. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    I don’t want to sound naive, but another one of the “not good” animals. I’ve been aware of brucellosis for some time, and I know what it can do, but perhaps someone can enlighten me on why the bison might have to go when, and here the correction is welcome, elk have had brucellosis, and actually mingled about livestock?

    And, I would assume that if a bison carried the antibodies for brucellosis, and not actually have the disease that that would be good.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue


        Thanks! I knew I saw that somewhere, but I’m on a bit of overlosd with what I must do, and other things I find both interesting and important.

      2. jon Avatar

        No problem immer.

  4. steve c Avatar
    steve c

    I am trying to get as many people as I can to write to Frontline at PBS to get them to do an investigative news story about the bison situation.

    ATTN: Story Editor
    One Guest Street
    Boston, MA 02135

  5. Ken Cole Avatar

    Groups ask judge to stay killing of Yellowstone bison
    By Laura Zuckerman – Reuters


  6. JimT Avatar

    Best long term solution is to either buy out the leases around the Park, or buy the land. Ranchers are never going to stop spreading the “boogey-bison” myths while continuing to ignore the documented source of danger to their herds-elk. I hope the judge has some spine and issues it, but I don’t think he or she will.

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      I agree.
      I would prefer that all the money spent researching wildlife to death be spent on land acquisition.
      There are many small ranches surrounded by public lands in the west that create lots of problems for wildlife.
      When a Bison steps on their land they want it removed. If a Wolf chases one of their cows they call Wildlife Services. If an Elk eats their hay, they shoot it and eat it.
      Buying them out and retiring their range permits would help solve some of these problems.

      1. steve c Avatar
        steve c

        What wildlife is researched to death? Many of the collared wolves in yellowstone live for a very long time for wild wolves (21, 302 and 113 come to mind). You should take a course in photoshop if the collars affect your wildlife photo business and bother you that much.

    2. Carl Avatar

      Didn’t National Wildlife Federation along with support from some other conservation groups buyout the grazing leases on public lands in this area a few years ago?

  7. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    Schweitzer’s office said they are working on amending a bill. I expressed my concerns and intimated that there seems to be a lack of leadership from his office regarding the bison issue. They are taking people’s names and addresses so people should call and keep calling.

  8. mikarooni Avatar

    At the risk of being redundant, if the Turner deal had been allowed to work its way through, the original group of animals would be safely reproducing by now, saving genetic material, and there would have been some big money pressure being brought to bear on saving some of these animals now. Instead, this situation is now getting worse and worse. It looks like the DOL is out to butcher a big bunch of them and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Turner crew, burned by their last effort to intervene, takes their money and their lawyers and their lobbying clout and stays out of it.

    I’ve watched people stand on principle all my life, heard them talk the talk. I’m now an advocate of looking toward the outcome; but, good luck with overturning the DOl, the ranchers, and the bison plan they’re hiding behind for long without big money, big money lawyers, and big money lobbying clout. …and that’s how it has always been. We owe our remaining environmental heritage to guys like Mather, Grinnell, Roosevelt, Sheldon, Dorr, Rockefeller, and now Turner. We may be jealous of them and their money; I’m an unabashed leftist myself; but, when they step up to do the right thing, then we ought to have sense enough to let them, in fact help them, to use their power when we need it.

    Again and as I’ve opined before, free-ranging bison would be great; but, for lack of a better alternative that can and will actually be implemented in the foreseeable future, the Turner deal was better than this slide toward dead bison, at least in my opinion and under these circumstances. At least, we’d have some live bison up at Spanish Peaks to argue about later.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      There has been no resolution of the Turner deal. At this point Turner is holding the bison as they had originally planned. This has nothing to do with the Turner deal.

  9. Ballgame Avatar

    It seems like we are indeed headed toward a slaughter the likes we haven’t seen since 2008. I don’t have great faith that the legal system will rule on behalf of the bison, creating the likelyhood that this injunction will simply delay the inevitable! What are the chances land could be purchased or leased? Again, at the heart of this issue is the uneducated assumptions concerning bison, brucellosis, and Montana cattle.

  10. Mike Avatar

    THANK YOU to everyone working on this. I speak for many flatlanders on this.

    1. jon Avatar

      I second that Mike. We need to protect the bison from slaughter.

  11. Mike Avatar

    We’re approaching eminent domain time. The preservation of an iconic species is more important than a few ranches.

    1. Ballgame Avatar

      It is to some (us included), but unfortunately its not important enought for government officials in Montana and at the Federal level. I agree with an earlier sentiment (William) to continue sending Governor Schweitzer’s office and other elected leaders phone calls and emails. Those of use who care deeply about protecting these bison NEED the help of decision makers in Montana and the US Government.

  12. john philip Avatar
    john philip

    I stopped eating beef in 1995. My decision had nothing to do with health. This kind of thing just screams the point. The whole thing is disgusting.

    1. IDhiker Avatar

      john philip,

      My wife and I quit eating beef four years ago, and although it wasn’t for health reasons, either, health is definitely a good side benefit. And, we don’t miss eating beef one bit.

      1. Leslie Avatar

        Yes, I stopped eating beef over 30 years ago and not for health either. Thank you to all those filing this lawsuit. Seeing these Bison just trying to survive, then getting slaughtered for it, breaks my heart. It saddens me that Montana’s priorities are so upside down.

  13. skyrim Avatar

    Kudos john. I stopped eating the damn things in 1999. My arteries thank me each time I go to the Dr.
    I enjoyed beef for a large part of my life, but when I realized what the sacred cow was doing to my wild spaces and the control they had over wild things, I gave it up.

  14. Virginia Avatar

    No beef, pork or lamb in our house for 34 years for lots of reasons.

  15. jon Avatar


    “The fallout is aimed at Montana, where the economic mainstay of ranching is facing off with a multibillion-dollar tourist industry that trades on Yellowstone and opportunities to view wildlife like buffalo.”

    1. jon Avatar

      It’s sad that these animals might be slaughtered to supposedly protect non native cattle. Only in America (in other places as well) does native wildlife get killed in order to supposedly protect non native species such as cattle.

  16. Bob Avatar

    Yes the effects of emotion rather than science. Once again I can’t resist throwing gas on a fire.
    Mostly I hear bull about genetic pure when the herd was originally made up from 3 sources when wild cattle were common.

    They haven’t been free roaming in over 100 years they have been pen, fenced in, feed, and vaccinated. They’ve been hazed, herded and hauled, and that was the first 50 years.
    try reading this for starters then you can go back to the wailing and crying foul.


    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Can’t start wailing yet because the link provided does not work.

      But I’ll take the bait by throwing a match into that gas.

      Perhaps for a boost we’ll have to import some of those non-native Canadian bison.

    2. JB Avatar


      First, when folks use the term “genetically pure” (which I don’t really care for either), they are referring to the fact that Yellowstone bison are the only herd managed by DOI that does not have introgression of cattle genes. This was determined by examination of mitochondrial DNA (see the NPS’s report here: http://wolves.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/bison_genetics_report.pdf). Thus, the herd are “pure” bison, as opposed to bison X cattle crosses.

      Second, I’m not sure what you mean when you suggest emotion, as opposed to science, is driving this debate? When people ask that bison be allowed to “roam free” they are asking for them to be treated like any other native species of wildlife. It seems to me that the broader debate here is about how wildlife should be managed by state and federal agencies? In any case–whether they roam free or are “penned” into YNP, science will be applicable and you can bet that it will remain an integral part of management.

      1. Bob Avatar

        Thanks JB
        I knew I could count on you for some more info. Sorry about not double checking my type. The ‘Emotion’ line came from Ralph. It’s good that no matter which animal is discussed wolf references pop up. Have fun down playing a opposing view everyone.

    3. jon Avatar

      Emotion is what makes humans caring people, some of them anyways. If we didn’t have emotion, we wouldn’t have brought wolves back or fight for the animals that need our help against humans that wanna kill them. Science can be manipulated to suit a certain agenda. There are many agendas nowadays and a lot of people have one. Atleast with emotion, you know people are doing it because they care about something.

  17. MAD Avatar

    here’s the website that Bob was trying to post – what threw him off was the spelling of the word “natural”, which is fairly ironic when you read the article and learn who Dr Kay is and what he advises


    if you search the website for the House Natural Resources Committee, you can see that Dr Kay for the last 15 years has always testified in favor of culling the herds of bison and elk in order to protect the “sacred cow.” Hmmm, just another scientist who knows where his bread is buttered and continues to put forth his opinion as opposed to actual science.

    for example, there is no scientific justification for allowing cattle to graze on arid or semi-arid public lands in the West due to the inherent carrying capacity of the land. Yet for decades, ranchers have become entrenched with their grazing leases which are disgustingly under-priced and subsequently subsidized by tax dollars (currently $1.35 per month per animal). It seems politics trumps all when it comes to land-use policy.

    Regarding the brucellosis issue, there are many facts that are withheld that I believe to extremely relevant in order to make an informed decision:
    – what is the actual number of bison that are INFECTED as opposed to possessing the antibodies due to exposure?
    – can bison possessing only the antibodies and not the disease infect cattle?
    – what is the ACTUAL number of cattle that develop the disease, and where were they raised, grazed and handled and by which ranchers?
    – in the law, any license is a privilege that is granted by the owner of property being used or licensed, therefore, the license can be revised, canceled or revoked in favor of other uses not consistent with it’s inherent character or purpose (meaning all grazing leases in the vicinity of Yellowstone on public lands should be revoked)
    – in terms of $$, what is the percentage of livestock near Yellowstone (compared to livestock in the respective States not raised near Yellowstone) that is “at-risk” due to brucellosis infected bison, and are elk more of a danger in brucellosis transmission?

    if you want to read a better book in regard to livestock ranching, the West, and the inappropriateness of the current situation, pick up “The Western Range Revisited” by Debra L. Donahue. Her call for removal of livestock from particular federal lands caused so much uproar from the livestock associations that they attempted to have her fired and called for the dissolution of the Univ. of Wyoming Law School. How’s that for politics…

  18. petticoat rebellion Avatar
    petticoat rebellion

    Charles Kay is a fraud…he is also blatantly anti-Native American…I witnessed him offend a room full of Native Americans at a conference several years back. Tribal members were so upset by his remarks they were slamming the doors as they walked out of his presentation. He also verbally attacked a Native American student who was presenting her research on Yellowstone bison genetics at the same conference. So shocking was his attack that audience members spoke up in her defense in an effort to quiet him. Here is a link to a paper that undermines the body of his work:


    Genetic integrity is important to conserve because it represents thousands of years of evolution in response to local environments. Through this process co-adapted gene complexes develop, which can become disrupted when hybridization occurs leading to a loss of fitness for generations of hybrid offspring. The Yellowstone bison represent the most important genetic resource for true ecological restoration of the species. For this reason, they must be protected from further harm caused by large-scale slaughters. Let’s hope the judge provides this protection through honoring the injunction motion.


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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Ken Cole