More on the bison as national mammal. Montana oddly silent

State that treats bison the worst isn’t saying much-

Earlier we reported on the bipartisan and geographically diverse move to make the American bison (buffalo) the national mammal. Many were skeptical of the motivation of some of sponsors or cosponsors, especially those in Wyoming such as U.S. Senator Mike Enzi. Wyoming is not very friendly toward free roaming bison, but it does not restrict them to Yellowstone Park.  Many wander Grand Teton National Park and its national forest fringes.

The Montana politician who will speak up for bison is outgoing governor Brian Schweitzer who supports the establishment of new herds of free roaming Yellowstone bison in places such as Indian Reservations. They would be free of brucellosis, which has been used for years as a red herring by the livestock industry, leaving the cattle lobby few arguments against them except trivial or hateful.  The two Montana U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, don’t want to talk about it.  Tester is up for reelection in a tough race against Denny Rehberg, a very rich far right Republican. Rehberg, who portrays himself as a rancher, is no friend of bison. The two Democratic senators don’t want to say anything much. Alex Sakariassen points this out in his recent article,  Montana’s odd silence on bison as national mammal.  He quotes Baucus saying the usual thing for almost any political this year who is asked about legislation or policy he or she doesn’t want to talk about. They say they are just so busy creating jobs that they just don’t have time to say anything about the unpleasant subject . . . . “Max is focused on passing legislation that will help Montana businesses create jobs, like the farm bill and the highway bill,” a Baucus spokesperson said. “Max looks forward to hearing from Montanans before taking a position on naming the bison the national mammal.”  Tester’s office did not respond.

The National Bison Association,  the Wildlife Conservation Society, National Parks Association, World Wildlife Fund, and the InterTribal Buffalo Council are pushing for the bill, and part of their motivation is commercial.  However, a national mammal, like the bald eagle, the national bird, does elevate the animals in the minds of people, making an attack on the animal seem unpatriotic.

The government agency that has been most hostile to bison, the Montana Department of Livestock, has been especially unpleasant this spring, according the Buffalo Field Campaign,  in their annual hazing of bison near Yellowstone Park.  This might be because of the movement of legislation like this and federal Judge Lowell’s prohibition of hazing bison with helicopters over Yellowstone Park. In the past Lowell had been a reliable judge defending the status quo favorable to the DOL and the cattle associations.


  1. john Avatar

    i was doing some reading on bison, wolves, cows, bears, etc in effort to write article in response to the bozeman chronicle coverage of the Gallatin meetings regarding all of above, and some lady rancher said something to effect that maybe all this tourism stuff needs to be set aside so that we can continue with our quote “heritage” of ranching. my reading from the state websites show that tourism, brings in 3 billion dollars to this state,, Agriculture was 2.6 2.8 in i think 2008,, now that is agriculture as a whole, farming, cows pigs, wheat,,,,, of that total, about half was ranching, so it seemed to me that maybe we should tell ranching to get out of way as it as a single industry falls way short of tourism dollar totals…

    in addition, Montanas travel budget is or as in 07-08 way below the national average of states with budgets for tourism, maybe they could spend more on tourism and less on hazing and helicopters and wolf mgmt

    1. Nancy Avatar

      🙂 🙂 🙂

    2. Rancher Bob Avatar
      Rancher Bob

      Your thoughts are common: First the belief agriculture and wildlife are not compatible, yet 75% of Montana’s wildlife live on private land. Second that tourism and agriculture are not compatible, ever visited a working dude ranch? Montana is what it is because of large blocks of land both private and agency owned. You can’t look at agriculture and tourism as two different economies. Third that tourist are here to only view wildlife, but the last two quarters of Montana’s tourist economy has the bulk of money spent on guide services, that would be hunting and fishing. How much of your tourist industry is hunters looking for big game.
      Tourist come here for the open space and the wildlife and to get away from people. Ranching has been part of the Montana economy since the 1800’s from what I read there is more wildlife and larger populations of wildlife now than anytime in the last 200 years. Montana has had both a tourism and agriculture economy since the start of mans use of this land the two are connected, and intertwined. Montana has a budget surplus something most states can’t claim maybe we’re doing just fine.

      1. Mike Avatar

        Bob, you make some good points. But there’s a right way to go about reaching, and a wrong way.

        “Green” ranches are a minority.

        Montana and its ranchers are wrong on bison and wrong on predators, period. Eventually, science and public opinion has a way of punishing those who use outdated practices. This WILL happen. Maybe not in my lifetime, but it will.

  2. mikarooni Avatar

    Okay, although I’m still not all dreamy eyed about the ability of a national mammal designation to ensure actual on-the-ground improvements in the management of bison, I can see that this designation would be step in the right direction. But, back to my core skepticism, if you want an indication of Montana’s deep respect for bison, just take a look at the state quarter coins that have been issued. Many other states issued coins, Kansas is a fine example, showing vigorous bison in various majestic poses. Montana’s quarters honored bison …with the image of a bison skull. I know it’s just artwork on the back of a silly coin; but, let’s not kid ourselves. The selection of that image was not accidental and it speaks volumes about the perverse nature of the adversary in the Montana bison fight.

    1. SAP Avatar

      mikarooni –

      You may be right about the Montana quarter and its bison skull. I don’t know what the selection committe was thinking — other than, Charlie Russell used the bison skull as part of his signature on most of his works.

      So, perhaps it honors Charlie Russell? And what does he stand for?

      That would make for a fascinating discussion. I’m sure that many would denounce him as Public Enemy #1 for glorifying cowboy stuff. Fair enough.

      Consider some other aspects of Russell, though:

      “In my book a pioneer is man who turned all the grass upside down, strung barbed wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water and cut down the trees, killed the wildlife and Indians who owned the land, and called it progress. If I had my way, the land would be here like God made it, and none of you sons of bitches would be here at all.”

      Teddy “Blue” Abbott, in “We Pointed Them North,” quotes Russell to similar effect. And this unsourced Russell quote as well:

      “Guard, protect and cherish your land, for there is no afterlife for a place that started out as Heaven.”

      We can read these quotes and then demand to know why a person of such sensibilities would make himself into a prime vector of the Cowboy Myth.

      Two thoughts on that: 1) Russell, in his 62 years of life, was just trying to make his way, and was chronicling what he saw around him. I just take that at face value, rather than assuming he was the Propaganda Minister for Ranch Hegemony.
      2) Russell, while actively participating in the “taming” of the West, grieved for what was being lost. It is one thing to wrest a living from The Wild; it is quite another to seek to vanquish or destroy The Wild and replace it with a controlled, mostly predictable world.

      I very much doubt that Charlie Russell intended his bison skull (which is also on every standard Montana license plate) to be a celebration of the passing of the bison. I don’t know what it meant to the people who designed the Montana quarter.

      Just like the push for a “national mammal,” the meaning of the skull is all about symbolism. I won’t dismiss it as “mere symbolism,” because it’s powerful stuff — it can move nations to great goodness or great evil.

      1. JB Avatar

        Seak: I found this statement intriguing and worth repeating:

        “It is one thing to wrest a living from The Wild; it is quite another to seek to vanquish or destroy The Wild and replace it with a controlled, mostly predictable world.”

        It seems to me that this brief statement neatly encapsulates much of the debate about hunting that goes on here. It is one thing to test your skill and merit against the wild; it is another entirely to demand that the wild be tamed so as to maximize one’s hunting opportunity.

        1. SAP Avatar

          Very much agreed. I think CM Russell and many old-timey romantics would apply the same thinking to ranching: ranching IN the wild is a very different thing from ranching MUST DISPLACE or supplant the wild.

          The “I paid my money so I insist on an elk” mentality is so prevalent.

          I’d like to make a mockumentary where some hunters roll up to the trailhead in their big truck in the dark, all decked out with the latest gear.

          They sit in the cab and drink coffee til one of them says, “Guess it’s time.” Then they climb out, sling their rifles, and waddle over to a Fish & Game refrigerator truck, whereupon state employees hand them boxes of cut & wrapped elk meat.

          Fade to black, voiceover says “Git yer elk?” 😉

  3. Mike Avatar

    Not surprised.

    Like I said before, any national discussion of an animal is good for the animal and society, because animals are inherently good.

    People love bison. They just don’t know about how Montana treats them. When they find out, and when the DOL sticks their ugly heads up, they will get steamrolled by the country.’


    1. louise kane Avatar

      If people knew what was has happened to wolves they would be equally outraged. I don’t think they believe that a species just recently removed from the ESA, could be legally treated as such. I hope wolves will become the next cause celebre.

  4. john Avatar

    Bob,, lots of heritages have been left behind over the course of our country and in others, look at coal,, they are trying desperately to eliminate coal,, and when an industry only becomes a “heritage” occupation, just because its the way its been, and if it becomes so heavily subsidized, i.e. grazing on public lands at a huge discount, its not a heritage, its a burden.. i was in the oil and gas business years ago, and when we drilled on fed lands, we paid premium prices for our mineral leases, and when we left our less than one acre site, we had to reseed and hay the grounds by govt paperwork, if in hills, lands had to be re-terraced to prevent erosions, pay to fix or replace fences and gates, in effect, it added the cost to drill a 60,000,00
    well another 10% just for cleanup and restoration. Now I have been to some of the grazing lands, and seen pictures of them as well, and it sure is a gift to be able to just leave it.. plus, have the govt do there predator control as well..

    we had to hire our own guards or gatekeepers if it was necessary, and that was at 13 dollar oil..and it eventually ran us out of the business, we lost part of our local heritage, but got no cheap land rates, in fact they were closed bid auction,, no one is or was paying for my lost heritage of oil and gas that had been in our area for over 60 years,,

  5. Annette Smith Avatar
    Annette Smith

    On Sunday, May 20, 2012 I was appalled at a picture that appeared in the Townsend newspaper. We were purchasing gas for the motorcycle. As I walked out the station I noticed a picture of two Bison on the front page which caught my eye. It was a picture of the Buffalo being hazed across the highway. The news person who made the comment that even with hazing the Buffalo did not want to go across the road!!!! Then its noted that the cow Buffalo had HOOFS sticking out of her back end. What kind of unsmypathetic animals are we? The hazing started earlier this year and it was known that it was right at the time the cows would have their young. Why could we not wait? The cow is trying to give birth and some ignorant individual is pushing her across the road!!! Bufffalo lie down to have their young. Instead she’s on the run. We could not stop for a day and let her have her calf, rest, and strong enough to travel and keep up with the herd??? I consequently read a article later that same day that stated, the young have umbilical cords still hanging from their abdomen that they are tripping on. Being stomped to death by bigger Bison on the run. It makes me wonder if the particular person that took this picture and was present to this discusting act of animal cruelty, took a post picture to see what happened to this cow and calf. Did she have it running? Was it trampled? Did it live? Was it left behind to be eaten by a wolf, or die on the roadway? Is there any animal that has a right anymore? It’s the Grizzly, the Buffalo, the Wolf etc, etc.They are ruled by the hands of man. They have no say so in their care, only God given instinct to survive.They have no right to roam. Everytime that a group comes up with a decent solution, some obnoxious person knows that it is a bad idea. I truly am sick of hearing about the cows and brucellosis and all that can happen???The Buffalo were here before the cows and they have managed to survive. Let the Buffalo roam free. Put them in different areas to grow. No wonder we have groups of people that protect the animals from the hands of uncompassionate judges, higher ups, that make decisions and do not care about the word of what the people want. The recent poll said that 89% of the people wanted the Buffalo protected and let to roam. I have been sick of the slaughter that went on for years. I thank the different groups that go out and give of their time, to try and save our heritage.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Right on Annette! pass those thoughts & concerns on to friends, family and anyone who will take the time to listen. And write or call your politicians!


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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