Montana plans to let bison roam outside Yellowstone Park year-round in two areas

Continuing enlightenment from state in this long controversy-
Final outcome will depend on 2012 election-

The state of Montana continues to lessen restrictions on the movements of Yellowstone Park bison that try to live outside the Park. Now they will be allowed to live there year-round in two areas, the Gardiner Basin just north of the Park and the Horse Butte area to the Park’s west (just north of West Yellowstone, MT).

Slowly, over the last decade the state and the federal agency APHIS have responded to the many protests of bison slaughter and strict confinement to the artificial boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

The federal government has become more sophisticated about the cattle disease brucellosis. This infection was passed to bison many years ago by dairy cattle allowed inside Yellowstone Park.  Today maybe 40% of the Park bison show they have been exposed to the disease and a much lower percentage of these can infect other bison and, in theory, cattle.  However, no cattle have ever been infected by bison, and cattle have been almost completely removed from these areas where bison will be allowed to roam.  Nevertheless, only bull bison will be allowed to use Gardiner Basin during the summer. It is impossible for bull bison to transmit the disease to other species.

Out of arguments of the danger of brucellosis, cattle interests that still oppose bison are now reduced to saying the bison will eat a little grass that cattle could have eaten and will stomp fences.  We have argued for many years that the real root of livestock’s opposition to bison is their cultural tradition.  Bison reclaiming even a small part of the range is seen a threat to their cultural dominance in Montana by people they don’t like.

The changes in Montana’s attitude toward bison have come during the tenure of Brian Schweitzer (Dem.) as governor.  Schweitzer is not running for reelection. Meanwhile the  Republican Party has become almost totally united against any proposals to benefit what is seen as environmentalism.  Because these changes are scheduled to go into effect this winter, whether they do depends on the outcome of the Montana election. In what is a toss-up so far, Democrat Steve Bullock, Montana’s attorney general faces Republican Rick Hill, a former congressman for the governor’s seat.

A detailed article on these bison developments is found in the July 24, Helena Independent Record. Proposal would let Bison roam year-round outside Yellowstone. By Eve Byron.


  1. Ida Avatar

    “Meanwhile the Republican Party has become almost totally united against any proposals to benefit what is seen as environmentalism.”

    It’s noticeable; and it makes absolutely no sense, because care of our environment benefits the entire planet, humans included. But a lot of good is taking place nonetheless, the return of these beloved, iconic animals such as the bison, the salmon. Now, about the wild horse and the wolf…

    1. timz Avatar

      And the democrats have done exactly what to stop this Republican assault on the environment? Oh yes, I forgot, they let a budget rider that circumvented the ESA pass, most actually voted for it. Sure hope they stay in power.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan


    A surprising number of people think Jesus will return and save them before they need to do anything.

    Mortal laziness under the cover of religion!!

    1. Salle Avatar

      …and some of them believe that Jesus can’t come back until they destroy everything that makes life possible on this planet.

    2. skyrim Avatar

      “The changes in Montana’s attitude toward bison” While there appears to be hope, I believe this statement is seriously premature.

  3. Jon Way Avatar

    Great news…. Slowly, one step at a time…

  4. DLB Avatar

    More people need to realize that supporting tax cuts for the rich, and anti-environmentalism doesn’t constitute an economic policy – unless you’re a right-wing radical.

    Many right-wing radicals seem to gravitate towards resource based issues as their chosen vehicle for economic prosperity. I can only guess that it’s a combination of a misplaced belief that de-regulation in those industries will bring real prosperity to rural areas, and a nostalgia for the boom-times of the past.

  5. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Hopefully this will be good news, although I seem to remember last time they were allowed in the Gardiner area the judge ruled them a threat. They were apparently running amock around town and congregating at school buses.

  6. john Avatar

    they don’t run amuck in gardiner,, as a resident there, you see them occasionally in winter when the park gets bad. there are way more elk and mule deer that congregate than bison, believe me, in fact, deer have decided its THEIR town, and will challenge you if you try to run them off.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I believe ProWolf in WY was only being sarcastic.

  7. Robert R Avatar
    Robert R

    This is a far bigger can of worms than the wolf.
    Brucellosis is minor compared to things like fences and completion for range land let alone private property.
    The wolf gets shot for livestock depredation but the bison will be shot for just being on private property and there is very few fences that will hold let a lone stop a bison.
    I would love to see free ranging bison but there is a lot of strikes against them and I will bet the range will be limited and highly policed.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Robert R,

      I think this is as far as bison will be allowed to roam on the borders of Yellowstone, but these 2 border areas are where 99% of the conflicts have been — the complaints have been. Most of the rest of the Park is surrounded by barriers of deep wilderness, rugged mountains, or are absent in the Park, e.g., the Madison Plateau. Nothing needs to be done in these locations.

      There will also be hunting for bison in these areas, making the bison valuable to a larger number of Montanans. Yes, there is a hunt now, but the presence of any bison for the hunt has been pretty sporadic.

      The great opportunity is the establishment of Yellowstone derived bison herds in Eastern Montana or other chronically depopulating parts of the Plains (yes, I know some oil development is taking place there, but it will not reverse 100 years of population decline). This is where the battle will be as our earlier article tells about Governor Schweitzer moving fast to get the first YNP bison located in an Indian Reservation in Eastern Montana.

  8. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    John, I was being sarcastic. I’ve spent a great deal of time there so I am familiar with the area. I just seem to remember that being implied. Ralph, you are rightthat there are some pretty major barriers that would likely keep them pretty contained.. It would be nice to see more herds on more public lands. The oil boom aside there really is little in eastern Montana or North Dakota.

  9. john Avatar

    i would suggest that if the nations are allowed to hunt them that it be a incarcerating offense if the hunter doesn’t at the very least, get out of his vehicle and shoot the animal. in some instances, they shoot out the window using the window rest for a stabilizer and just sit on the jar dine road waiting on them to cross the road.. what a bunch of fine hunters..

  10. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Isn’t it already illegal to shoot from a vehicle?


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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