Bison Abuse Merits Harsh Criticism

Guest editorial by Dr. Brian L. Horejsi-

Bison Abuse Merits Harsh Criticism

Harsh criticism is increasingly justified in todays world of National Park and public land management, a world in which regulatory retreat from principles and regulation is the new norm and “gut and grab” politics seem to be an every day threat. One such issue deserving of harsh review is the continuous persecution of bison in the Yellowstone ecosystem. What is happening on Yellowstone’s borders is no less offensive than the corralling and clubbing of dolphins in Japan, the clubbing of seal pups off Canada’s coast, or the indiscriminate slaughter of African elephants that eventually led to massive population declines barely a decade ago.

The institutionalized abuse of ecological and behavioral cycles that bison have responded to for over ten thousand years, making them at one time the most successful and numerous large North American grazing animal, is abhorrent to people around the world. It is moreover a dangerous indication that a mountain of ecological / scientific knowledge, gained over half a century, and presumably vested in government agencies, is being ignored and wasted. A massive accumulation of social, scientific, and management evidence is being trumped by a shrinking minority in the livestock business, blindly aided and abetted by the Montana Dept of Livestock, the federal Animal Health Inspection Service and a not so silent partner, the Park Service. Why are we investing tens of millions of dollars and spending lifetimes doing research into ecological well being?

Thousands of bison have been casualties of this retreat from reason and accountability, and 500 more are in the crosshair this week, but these helpless and trusting animals have not been the only casualties. These practices have inflicted psychological damage to a century old link between “wild” and wildlife. They have degraded National Parks as strongholds of biodiversity and ecosystem conservation; they have severely set back the long established, but obviously vulnerable principle that American citizens should set the vision and direction of National Park management; and they have gouged wounds in what has been one of the most unifying issues in Americas floundering democracy – the right of people from every street and every state in the Nation to be heard when significant National Park decisions are being made.

It strikes me as severe treatment to confine “wild” bison at all (other than the rare soundly justified research project) but the fact that National Park staff are complicit with this practice and seem to turn a blind eye to plans to again destroy bison indicates a major professional retreat by senior management. This represents failure by the Park Service to serve the people of America by protecting and maintaining, or recovering, the biodiversity of the ecosystem as a top level management / conservation objective.

I confess I have a personal interest in this issue; For days, several times each year, I walk parts of Yellowstone, and one of the joys of doing so is being in (often) constant contact (visually, space wise, philosophically, emotionally, ecologically, and professionally,) with bison and their ecological footprint. But I also am part of a collective interest; millions of Americans have fought for Yellowstone to be the best it can be, and millions have visited it and enjoyed what I have, and millions more are entitled to enjoy an intact Yellowstone when they eventually get there. I admittedly resent the continued abuse of bison by a sadly outdated Montana Dept of Livestock and its political sidekicks, apparently embraced in a twisted partnership with the Park Service. I fear for these bison, for Yellowstone, and for the power gap developing between self serving local agency actors and the American people. The slaughter and perpetual harassment of Yellowstone bison may be a “time honored” practice – what on earth was that Judge thinking? – but so was the exploitation of children in coal mines, abuse of African Americans, joy killing of millions of bison from railway cars, and dumping sewage in water ways. Call it what you may, it remains a chronic, unethical and inexcusable conflict that has to move up the power ladder for resolution.

Until bison have low elevation winter range freely available, there will be no peace on the land and Yellowstone cannot lay claim to being ecologically intact. People in Washington, even Helena, legislators, citizens, activists that are not mired in the petty local politics need to step in decisively. It will cost money – literally peanuts when put in perspective – but its time for America to move beyond this festering division in favor of the greater public good as exemplified by a protected and intact Yellowstone National Park, public lands managed for all Americans, and largely free ranging bison.

Dr. Brian Horejsi is a long time user of Yellowstone and a wildlife scientist. He currently lives in Alberta




  1. jdubya Avatar

    I could not agree more. We need a “The Cove” for the bison slaughter to get the attention the issue deserves.

  2. Angela Avatar

    We need to get children involved. The adults are too distracted to care. Take as many students as possible on field trips to see the bison. The next day could be education on ecology, wildlife management, ethics, and politics. Then bring them to the politicians so the kids can shame them in person.

    Most people have heard of seal clubbing after so many decades, and people now know about The Cove, but I think few realize what is being done to our buffalo.

  3. Virginia Avatar

    So glad you posted this article as I had just read it on Counterpunch. It puts to shame those who would like to destroy this precious resource that belongs to ALL Americans, not just the MT DOL.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    There is a group that does that — Yellowstone Country Guardians.

    1. Angela Avatar

      well, how cool is that?
      I was thinking of grade school kids actually–what politician wants to be seen disappointing children? Children crying while watching a buffalo hazing after learning about buffalo? Hit those fake cowboys where it hurts.

      1. Mtn Mama Avatar
        Mtn Mama

        My emails to Colin Campbell about the bison have been written from a second person narrative on behalf of my 2 yr old daughter. Her favorite animal is the bison, which she calls “tatanka” for the native name.
        *I am raising my children to respect and value wildlife. They have seen wolves, grizzlies (yes a sow w/3cubs), bison, elk, moose, coyote, eagles and many other critters all in the wild.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The bison need a wealthy mentor. Bob Barker funded the Sea Shepherd project to stop Japanese whaling(Disguised as research) in the Antarctic. The Japanese have just announced that they will stop whaling this year.
    There is just no place for the Bison to go outside of the park unless someone or some group starts buying up private ranches in the Paradise valley below Yankee Jim Canyon.
    The Bozeman based Yellowstone Park Foundation has solicited over four million dollars to put radio-collars on Yellowstone’s wolves over the past fifteen years, perhaps they could be persuaded to shift their focus into buying some winter range for Yellowstone’s Bison.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg


      It seems like a group would have to get up into the nine figure range to start purchasing enough land to make a dent.

  6. Ken Cole Avatar

    I read this piece this morning and I thought about all of the horrible things I witnessed while volunteering for BFC. I won’t name names but I’ve seen MDoL agents that seem to thoroughly enjoy hazing, capturing and doing all of the other horrible things they do to these buffalo. They are sick people and, yes, they deserve harsh criticism.

    1. Angela Avatar

      I watched several videos on YouTube today that demonstrate this perfectly. I was almost sick to my stomach watching it.

  7. Indamani Avatar

    We have a depraved band of stockgrowers and an even more depraved government who are in bed with each other resorting to murderous acts against our native species, the bison.

  8. Roger Sherman Avatar

    The livestock industry does not want any competition from grazing bison. Who has the power/money? The livestock industry.

  9. TripleJ Avatar

    Came across this in for anyone in the Bozeman area, re: Yellowstone Bison:
    Yellowstone Bison “Citizens Working Group” Forming

    open to all interested citizens

    by Yellowstone National Park Press Releases Feb. 18, 2011

    On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, at 7:15 PM in the large community room at the Bozeman Public Library, the first Yellowstone Bison “Citizens Working Group” meeting will take place. The meeting will be facilitated by Virginia Tribe, and the meeting is open to all interested citizens.

    Tuesday’s meeting will be the first of a series of Yellowstone bison Citizens Working Group meetings, with the goal to get a diverse group of Montanans together to try to move the issue of Yellowstone bison forward.
    Participation is open to anyone, but continued attendance over the course of the series of meetings is expected.

    The Interagency Bison Management Plan state and federal agencies and tribes are fully supporting the Citizens Working Group. No RSVP for Tuesday’s meeting is required.

    Contacts: Matt Skoglund, (406) 223-1950

    Ariel Overstreet, (406) 442-3420

  10. Stephany Avatar

    Thank you for this, Dr. Horejsi. After seven years in the field with Buffalo Field Campaign and the buffalo, witnessing over and over the horrors the buffalo suffer, your words have touched me deeply. This is such an excellent editorial. Your words have been shared far and wide, with the volunteers in our cabin, among other buffalo advocates elsewhere, and it will continue to be shared. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to articulate this tragedy so powerfully with such eloquence. Knowing that there are people like you in the world, and that even after all the senselessness there are still wild buffalo living, gives me hope. Thank you for being a voice for the buffalo. We will never ever give up! The buffalo themselves teach us persistence, resistance, and endurance. ROAM FREE!

  11. Olivia Avatar

    I would like to like to thank Dr. Brian Horejsi for speaking the words that have been bursting in my mind and heart from the first that I learned about these beautiful bison a few years ago. After I dry my tears from reading BFC emails, I write to the officials involved in this travesty, trying my best to let them know that they were made to be better human beings than their decisions and actions would indicate. But I can’t write anything that tops what the good doctor eloquently expresses here, so I’m just going to send THIS to the new YNP director, if I may.

    I’d like to also humbly thank:

    ~ jdubya for suggesting a movie like “The Cove.” It could be called “The Trap” or “The Haze.” Or both.
    ~ Angela for suggesting that children get involved, as they did in the days of Wild Horse Annie, resulting in the now ignored Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
    ~ Virginia for confirming that the bison belong to all Americans. For clarification purposes, we might not want to call them a “resource.” The vegetable and mineral kingdoms supply resources. Animals are fellow inhabitants of this planet and deserve to live on their land without us “managing” or “harvesting” them as if they were inanimate resources. As BFC’s motto says, “Roam free.” Those who enslave others are enslaving themselves. Those who stand by doing nothing are complicit.
    ~ Ralph for telling us about Yellowstone Country Guardians: I hope they get very involved in stopping this cruel crusade against the bison.
    ~ Mtn Mama for writing letters to CC with your young daughter
    ~ Larry for the idea of finding a wealthy donor a la Bob Barker (who also donated $1 million to SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness; the money is being used to shut down PA pigeon shoots and show the world, via YouTube, rodeo animal abuse)
    ~ Ken for being willing to stomach the hazing you saw without “losing it” and going to jail or being driven mad with grief; I commend you for your moral courage
    ~ Indamani for your accurate use of the word “depraved,” which includes the traits of willfulness, self-justification, pride, deceit, hatred, revenge. None are part of good government (of self, of city, of state or of nation).
    ~ Roger for hitting the nail on the head with your comment about the livestock industry equaling money and power: this must END!
    ~ TripleJ for the letter about Citizens Working Group: what a boon they will be to the bison!
    ~ Stephany for always being there by the side of the beautiful bison.

  12. Henriette Matthijssen Avatar
    Henriette Matthijssen

    These animals are in their natural habitats & have first right to be there where God gave them the privilege!

  13. Felizitas Avatar

    This outstanding editorial needs to be shared by everyone interested in buffalo and wildlife and ecology and TAXPAYERS!! Our taxes are wasted on cruel and senseless hazing and slaughter or native animals! What are the local politicians thinking?!

    My deepest admiration goes to the strong and determined people who stand up to witness the crimes against the buffalo and tell about it! My tears flow when I think about what you have to see, but I know witnessing these atrocities strengthens your resolve!

    Keep fighting, friends of the buffalo!

  14. Karen Atwood Avatar
    Karen Atwood

    I wish to thank Dr.Horejsi for his compelling commentary on the buffalo tragedy unfolding in the Yellowstone National Park area. I agree with the theory that the livestock industry is behind the abuse of the buffalo, and the wolves of this region, and being assisted by the hunting lobby. A movie about this cruelty and injustice (similar to “Gasland”) would surely make it to Sundance. The Federal and State officials involved deserve the public’s scorn for animal abuse. This is not what I, as a US citizen and taxpayer, agree with in any shape or form. It is long past time to stop this “hazing”,once and for all, and stop wasting taxpayers money to abuse wildlife.


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Ralph Maughan