Montana governor allows Yellowstone Park bison to roam

A Christmas present of year-round access-

Although, it is just “an adjustment” under the adaptive management in the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), Governor Steve Bullock’s decision could eliminate one of the most contentious parts of the 20-year battle over bison leaving Yellowstone Park.

Governor Bullock  would allow bison to roam year round to the west and north of Yellowstone Park. Allowance for bison here in “suitable habitat” will be along U.S. Highway 191  northward to the Taylor Fork Drainage — all directly west of the Park. The bison would not be hazed back into the Park in the springtime. Bull bison would be permitted to roam in the Gardiner Basin. This is from the Park border town of Gardiner northward to the entrance of Yankee Jim Canyon.

Top of Horse Butte looking eastward to Yellowstone NP. Copyright Ralph Maughan
Top of Horse Butte looking eastward to Yellowstone NP. Copyright Ralph Maughan

These locations have a topography that naturally tends to contain bison, unlike the Park boundary which is just a straight line, often across featureless terrain.

It is not certain that Bullock’s decision will prevail. A statement from his office reads, “Before the decision is implemented under IBMP procedures, it must be adopted by the IBMP partner agencies under their standard process for adaptive changes to the IBMP.”

In past years, the annual hazing of bison back into Park has caused a great disturbance in the Park’s backcountry with machinery chasing bison through pristine park backcountry.

Adoption of the governor’s decision would not mean an end to government and livestock interest group efforts to reduce the Park’s bison population. The large Park population remains controversial, and so does the nearly annual planned capture of bison for the slaughterhouse. New policies are needed to close the gap between unpleasant bison slaughter outside the Park’s borders or overpopulation of the bison inside the Park.




  1. Stephany Seay, BFC Avatar

    Thanks for the post, Ralph. We at Buffalo Field Campaign are celebrating year-round habitat for bison on Horse Butte, even though it still comes with some population caps. Much of the other lands granted the buffalo for year-round access, west of the Park, will very likely not be used by buffalo. They don’t tend to head in that direction, if ever. A lot of the land is also high-mountain terrain, and it’s unlikely that buffalo would find that suitable. Much of the “suitable” — or, habitat preferred by the buffalo — will be off limits to them, such as the south side of the Madison River, the South Fork, and Denny Creek area. There will be intense hazing from these lands, mark my word. In Gardiner, it’s wonderful that bulls are getting to have full access in the Basin, until they hit the veritable Berlin Wall at Yankee Jim Canyon. Though, buffalo have already repeatedly shown us that they will simply move around this man-made obstacle. Sadly, the matriarch-lead family groups will not be afforded such “tolerance”, only being allowed to occupy the Gardiner Basin while there are state and treaty hunts taking place. Come May, they will be hazed into Yellowstone. And, yes, the decision is full of more-of-the same hazing/capture-for-slaughter/population caps, and we will continue to fight tooth and nail against these livestock industry driven management schemes. Gaining Horse Butte, though, is a tremendous victory — something BFC has been fighting for for nearly twenty years. It is amazing that they will even accept up to 600 buffalo there in the spring months, when the large family groups migrate through here to their traditional calving grounds. Hazing off of Horse Butte will not take place at all unless there are more than 250 on the Butte by July — this is six weeks later than hazing typically takes place here, so we will have an opportunity to learn from the buffalo and what they choose to do. Will they remain on Horse Butte to raise their babies, or will they be drawn into the summer pastures inside Yellowstone, to join in family reunions and partake in the rut. We don’t know. And it’s going to be incredible to learn this new lesson from them. But, I fear, come July, if there are more than 250, there will be some hazing off of the Butte. Our work is far from being close to over; there are many battles yet to win. But, all bison advocates who have been a voice in these many years should certainly celebrate the victory of gaining Horse Butte. This is a beautiful thing. And we will not stop until wild buffalo roam free where they choose, when they choose, and in whatever numbers they choose — they are more than capable of managing themselves and their habitat (one and the same) with no interference from humans necessary. As we say, Wild is the Way ~ Roam Free!

    1. Joanne Favazza Avatar
      Joanne Favazza

      Stephany: Thank you, Mike, and your fellow warriors at BFC for all that you do on behalf of the buffalo. Yes–let the buffalo roam free!

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Stephany Seay,

    Thanks for the additional information about the governor’s action.

    How great is the probability the other IBMP agencies will block it from happening?

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Wow! It’s going to be wonderful to see them. It’s like healing.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        Plus, I think the things that make us uniquely American, our native wildlife and landscapes, are very attractive to visitors from other countries. People here and visitors are going to love it.

    2. Rich Avatar


      Does anyone know whether the proposal will benefit native bison or is this for a private herd of beefalo?


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