Herd of wild bison living in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness

Their origin is not known-

The Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains is large and rugged. It’s in extreme NE Oregon near Washington and Idaho. This herd of 25 bison is of unknown origin. What a happy discovery!

The Eagle Cap Wilderness,  the nearby Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness and areas in Oregon’s Blue Mountains are also where the state’s wolves live.

Wild herd of bison roams base of Wallowa Mountains in Oregon. Richard Cockle. The Oregonian

One of my photos of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.



  1. Savebears Avatar


    This is a very interesting development!

    1. bret Avatar

      I’ve spent some time in the Eagle Cap, news to me? pretty cool.

  2. Phil Avatar

    I find it quite difficult to believe that no one saw a few or so bison escaping to Oregon. Maybe it is possible, but what are the odds? Now, someonw wants to buy these bison because no one else is claiming them to be theirs? I understand Oregon law does not claim them as wild animals, but why not have expert bison biologists do a little research and see if they can help in changing the law a bit?

    1. bret Avatar

      phil, if you sent any time in the cap or read the article you would not fin it difficult to believe.

      1. Phil Avatar

        Sorry bret, but I have never been in that area.

      2. Savebears Avatar

        As Gomer Pyle used to say…Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

      3. jon Avatar

        sb, nice weather in mt today huh? 50s?

      4. jon Avatar

        sb, if a wolf hunting season happens in MT which I think it will, it will happen in the fall september correct? How long will the season be? 7 months like Idaho?

      5. Savebears Avatar


        Yes the weather was nice today, I didn’t spend much time outside, I am remodeling a bathroom for my wife. And I don’t know if a season is held when it will be held..or how long it will be..

  3. Nancy Avatar

    +They are private property and considered domestic animals — similar to peacocks and llamas, said Rodger Huffman, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health and Identification Division+

    Such a shame they are classified this way. Native wildlife returning by what ever means……. lets hope they can get a plan together that benefits THEIR continued existence in what use to be THEIR native lands.

    1. Savebears Avatar

      Based on Oregon law, not they are not private property…as they are not being claimed, the argument can be made they are actually a wild herd. When I make my phone calls in the AM, I will specifically point that out to them!

  4. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    That is very interesting they are unclaimed. That would be great if the population was allowed to grow.

  5. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    Wouldn’t that be something if wolves were allowed to hunt their natural prey like they did before the jolly rancher came along

    1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      Yes it would. Now if only some grizzlies could migrate there…

      1. william huard Avatar
        william huard

        If that happened we would almost have a complete ecosystem. Did you read the posts from the idiots saying they were going in to get them some bison meat? It almost makes you not want to make these things available to the yahoos that want to fu^& up everything in nature

    2. Savebears Avatar

      Bison were not a primary source of protein for wolves… there were pocket populations to bison in the eastern part of OR and WA, but they never really played much into the whole scope of things, the primary source of food in the eastern part of OR and WA was in fact, gophers, prairie dogs and deer..bison really never entered into the equation..

  6. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    It would be neat to have almost a complete ecosystem. I read those posts. That’s why sometimes I wish stuff like this was kept secret. I know I am very careful telling people if I saw wolves, and especially about telling them where I saw them.

    1. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      That’s a good idea. Wyoming isn’t exactly for wolf lovers. Heck I’d settle for a little wolf tolerance

      1. jon Avatar

        William, it will be a cold day in hell before that happens. Wyoming has had over 80 years to change their attitudes about wolves and other predators they consider pests/vermin and they haven’t. I feel bad for people who really care about wildlife like prowolf and dewey. They live in a state that hasn’t changed much when it comes to attitudes about wolves and grizzlies. Wyoming is stuck in the early 1900s still and that is pretty pathetic.

    2. jon Avatar

      Good idea prowolf. Washington game department is careful about that stuff too when they discover wolves or put collars on existing wolves they already know about. They don’t give out the location because they know there are a lot of hunters out there who want to kill wolves because they are afraid they are going to kill and eat all of the deer and other game animals that they feel only belongs to them.

      1. bret Avatar

        jon, it is the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

        we call them poachers not hunters.

      2. ProWolf in WY Avatar
        ProWolf in WY

        Jon, I think most of the west is stuck in the 1900s. It amazes me how people will not listen to any sort of reason when it comes to predators like wolves and grizzlies. You see people driving around in their trucks with bumper stickers that say things like “Wolves, Smoke a Pack a Day” or “Preserve the Wolf, Take him to a Taxidermist”, or my favorite one to play on people’s fears, “Wolves: The Original Terrorists.” The sad thing is half the time you see these people with little kids in their trucks who will grow up with this archaic view.

  7. Woody Avatar

    Great news. It seems bison should at least be considered native wildlife and allowed to exist similar to other native ungulates.

  8. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    I imagine that these bison are not genetically “pure” (free of any genes from cattle?). Will that affect how some bison advocates react to this news? Would some only advocate reintroduction into areas using bison from gentically pure herds?

    Is anyone running cattle around there that could start screaming about brucellosis?

    At the very least this will bring some more attention to the issue.

  9. Ken Cole Avatar

    It is highly unlikely that these bison are genetically free of cattle genes and I seem to remember hearing about some canned hunting operation over there someplace that had bison. I don’t know where it was but these are probably from a captive source.

    Eastern Oregon is on the periphery of the historic range of bison and the only accounts I’ve ever heard of bison were from the area around Burns. The native people claimed that they were there long before but that they had died out. Of course nobody believed them until Harney Lake dried up one year during a drought and several bison skeletons were found near where the last water would have been.

    The northeast corner of Oregon was likely more suitable for bison but I don’t know if they were ever abundant or not.

    Take a look at Hornaday’s old map which shows a good representation of the historic range of bison in North America. While there probably were bison in parts of the Great Basin it is doubtful that they existed in numbers significant enough to have much ecological effect and they probably expanded and contracted their range depending on conditions.

    You will note that the areas which had very marginal conditions for bison had the earliest extirpations.


    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I doubt that this a very suitable place for them and doubt that it is ecologically a good place for them to be. Maybe I’m wrong though. I’ve never been there.

    I’d prefer restoration in habitats where they were more abundant and where they are ecologically suitable but most of that land has been converted into farmland and there is great resistance to them.

    There are a couple of places that come to mind for restoration in eastern Idaho and southwest Montana. I think there might be good, relatively unoccupied habitat in the Red Rock Lakes area of Montana and the Birch Creek area of Idaho.

    1. Savebears Avatar


      I have extensively travel this area, if you have not, then you don’t know, there are many great areas that Bison could and should proliferate..

      1. Elk275 Avatar


        The Red Rock Lakes or the Centennial Valley in Montana is one of my favorite places. I love a cold fall morning on the divide between the Ruby Valley and the Centennial Valley. I park my truck at the divide on the Snowcrest side and hike up the hill, before the sun slowly starts to lighten the landscape. There are only two or three ranch lights in the entire Centennial Valley — the country has not change much in the last 200 hundred years except for fencing. Soon I have gained enough elevation that the Grand Teton becomes visible weather permitting. Last fall I was on the south side of valley in the Centennial Mountains looking north across the valley feeling what it would have been like 200 years ago. Nothing much has changed except there were about 3000 head of cattle mooing in the valley.

        I would love to see buffalo inhabit the valley again but how is it ever going to be possible with the Centennial Valley being approximately 40% federal, 40% private and 20% state land. The private land owners are not going to sell and the state is not going to allow buffalo on their land. The most important present consideration is conservation easements to prevent subdividing.

      2. Savebears Avatar


        There are lots of places I would like to see Bison, and I know there are lots of places I will never see them, but eastern OR, is an area that they are indigenous to…

    2. BryantO Avatar

      I seem to remember there was once a sub-species of Bison, described from sub-fossil remains, called Bison bison oregonus. According to archaeological evidence,Bison were much more common than is normal thought of west of the continental divide in the Sagebrush Steppe type habitats in pre-columbian times, but apparently experienced some type of local extinction in the era just before white settlement,most likely caused by and increase in hunting pressure on them from both trappers and Native American who had just gotten horses and rifles,making hunting of them much easier. They were never as abundant as they were in the plains,but still present. One only has to go as far as Yellowstone to see that they can live in Sagebrush steppe just fine,if left to their own devices anyway. There is no doubt that wolves would have preyed on them,just as they did everywhere else Bison occurred. Wolves seldom,if ever, lived off of gophers or Prairie dogs, the later of which did not occur west of the continental divide in the northwest,although various species of Ground Squirrels did. It would be nice if they would just let them be,but I think we all know that won’t likely happen,because they are direct competition with cattle.

  10. Woody Avatar

    TNC owns the 33,000 acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve NW of Joseph, Oregon. Any thoughts on that area as a possibility?

  11. Doryfun Avatar

    I grew up in NE Oregon, have lots of relatives that still do, and I know the Eagle Caps area very well. My grandfather, before he died, propably knew the area better than anyone I know of, having worked trails and traveled the back country the county all his 80 some years of life.

    Never heard anyone ever sighiting a wilf heard, or a single buffalo, anywhere around this area, in all the years I grew up around there. Stangle has had buffalo for a very long time now, and it doesn’t take much imagination to know where these buffalo that are on the loose came from.
    This is also heavy duty cattle country. Mountain buffalo may have been in the area thousands of years ago, but the Nez Perce (Wallowa Band Nez Perce – Cheif Joseph )normally had to travel east to hunt buffalo.

    Winters are harsh, meadow grassland habitat at the very foot of the Eagle Caps (like Idaho’s rugged Sawtooths), makes raising livestock somewhat limited already. Having been grazed heavily by cows for sometime now would make managing wild buffalo, in addition, quite the challenge.

  12. Chuck Avatar

    Now just for the record there use to be a guy up in the blue mountains right along I84 who was raising bison, I have noticed the last several times going by there that I didn’t see any bison, so it would not be impossible for those bison to have escaped and headed up that way as its probably only about a 100 miles Northeast of there to the Eagle caps.

  13. vickif Avatar

    I have a lot of thoughts on this. But mainly, my guess would be we will see some genetic testing done before any decisions are made about these bison, period. If they are unclaimed, and therefore non-property, there needs to be a precidence for them in Oregon. They are not domesticated, not cattle, not wild? They need to be defined.
    If they are genetically distinct, there may be an issue of listing them…as appearantly, the Ag industry in Oregon has not gotten to control the entire legal system for that state. Then again, I am sure with wolves there, Ag is going to lump these bison in, and do their usual bad deeds.
    Perhaps, by some stroke of luck, they are genetically YNP escapees (highly doubtful), they would be screwed….and I would imagine they would eventually be rounded up and hauled back to the park-excepting legal action by BFC or WWW etc.
    Bison living in Oregon, and we haven’t heard a huge out cry for protection from bs diseases…that is the biggest shocker so far.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan