U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Denies Endangered Species Act Protection for the Iconic Yellowstone Bison

MONTANA: Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) denied  Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for the iconic Yellowstone Bison, 14 months after Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign petitioned to list these bison as an endangered or threatened species. The conservation groups sought federal protection for the Yellowstone bison because they are harmed by inadequate federal and state management and other threats to these unique bison herds. In today’s finding, the USFWS now agrees that the Yellowstone bison are a distinct population of bison, reversing its 2011 position, but still declined to protect them under the ESA.

“If buffalo are to recover as a wild species in their native ecosystem, science must prevail over politics,” said Buffalo Field Campaign Executive Director Dan Brister. “The best available science indicates a listing under the Endangered Species Act is necessary to ensure the survival of this iconic species.”

Current federal and state policies and management practices threaten rather than protect the Yellowstone bison and their habitat. Since 2000, more than 4,000 bison have been ripped from their home in Yellowstone National Park and slaughtered. The Forest Service issues livestock grazing permits in bison habitat, limiting the species’ room to roam. The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming forcefully remove or kill bison migrating beyond the National Park borders.

“Friends of Animals is committed to protecting the last wild bison in America. We are disappointed in USFWS’s finding and suspect that the decision was improperly influenced by the interests of private ranchers in the area. We are reviewing the agency’s decision and plan to take further legal action if necessary,” stated attorney Michael Harris of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program.

“We petitioned the USFWS to list the Yellowstone bison because of clear management inadequacies and growing threats to this key population of wild bison. The USFWS decision is disappointing because protection under the Endangered Species Act is the only way to counter the management inadequacies and growing threats,” said Dr. Michael Connor of Western Watersheds Project.

The groups’ petition catalogues the many threats that Yellowstone bison currently face. Specific threats include: extirpation from their range to facilitate livestock grazing, livestock diseases and disease management practices by the government, overutilization, trapping for slaughter, hunting, ecological and genomic extinction due to inadequate management, and climate change. 

Once numbering tens of millions, there were fewer than 25 wild bison remaining in the remote interior of Pelican Valley in Yellowstone National Park at the turn of the 20th Century. The 1894 Lacey Act, the first federal law specifically safeguarding bison, prevented the extinction of these few survivors.



  1. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Oh. No. I just can’t believe it. 🙁

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      To the dominant culture in this country, they are seen as a threat, and I am afraid that isn’t going to change. They are the unique symbol of this country, and I and I hope others will continue to work to see that they are protected as the valued species they are.

      I’m thinking of JEFF E’s political cartoon now of ‘How Bad Can It Get?’ Really bad and it isn’t done yet, I’m afraid.

    2. Ron Rommel Avatar
      Ron Rommel

      YES, What is wrong with us?
      Please remember, our 19th Century forefathers advocated for the eradication of the Bison for the sole purpose to starve out our fellow Native Americans, in order, to eliminate their way of life.

      Have we not learned anything from our past?
      We need to protect the bison and expand their habitat beyond Yellowstone National Park to increase the population to enhance the biological diversity throughout the North American plains. Once their numbers reach a viable sustainable population the US Fish & Wildlife could manage their future population through managed regulated hunting, NOT SLAUGHTER! Ron Rommel, Rational Conservationist

  2. Julie Gallegos Avatar
    Julie Gallegos

    Anything that is perceived as competing with cattle grazing on any land – public or private – receives no quarter.

  3. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    Once again, Dan Ashe and the USFWS demonstrate that the agency’s true mission is to ensure that no native wild species ever stands in the way of special interest profits. This is a political decision made on behalf of the livestock industry. Non-native livestock should never take precedent over native wildlife on our public lands. It’s well past time to put an end to public lands ranching so that native wildlife and habitat can thrive again.

    1. Jeanne Rasmussen Avatar
      Jeanne Rasmussen

      I very much agree Joanne.

      1. ramses09 Avatar

        I agree also.

  4. Lonna O'Leary Avatar
    Lonna O’Leary

    This decision by the USFWS does not surprise me in the least. In order for wildlife to be adequately protected, the politics needs to be completely removed and only the science needs to be considered when making decisions about our Nation’s wild icons. Until we as a united nation say enough is enough, and get these bought off politicians out of office and abolish the corrupt USFWS, our wildlife will continue to be exterminated, slaughtered, and mismanaged by states management agencies who’s primary mission is not the best welfare for wildlife, but is depicted by ranchers and other special interest groups.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    There are two many Bison in Yellowstone. I have traveled to Yellowstone at least once a year for the past 40 years.
    In that time the Yellowstone Bison population has increased from a few hundred to thousands. Their numbers threaten the vegetation and soil in Yellowstone. Exotic plants like Cheatgrass are getting established in areas where the Bison eat and tramp out the native grasses. Those “Giant Canadian Wolves” are not large enough to regularly predate on the Bison. Therefore,Bison have to be culled to protect the range.
    There is a large herd of Yellowstone Bison in Grand Teton National Park.
    There is a healthy herd of genetically pure and disease free Yellowstone Bison in the Henry mountains of Utah.

    Yellowstone Bison are NOT in danger of extinction!!

    Saving Yellowstone from too many Elk by bringing back the wolves should not undone by allowing Bison to do the same thing the Elk were doing.

    1. JB Avatar

      So the population that resides on top of a giant caldera that is due for an eruption is not in danger of extinction?

      1. Kathleen Avatar

        If that baby blows, it’s going to take a lot of wild bison advocates with it. But what a way to go! According to this map, I’m just outside the northwest edge of the kill zone:

    2. skyrim Avatar

      People have been banging that “too many” theory drum for some time. In my mind (if in no other place) these folks are the ones I see honking their horns and smacking their dash boards and steering wheels in anger at the animals lounging and traveling the roadways inside the park.
      The park is their home first and we need to respect that reality. If people can’t honor that, they should stay home.
      If there is damage to the range it will recover just as it has through the ages.

      1. Kathleen Avatar

        “If there is damage to the range it will recover just as it has through the ages.”

        Amen! People are too quick to jump on the “too many bison” in the park bandwagon. What’s the carrying capacity? In the 10+ years I’ve been involved in this issue, I’ve heard biologists say that they don’t know–but it could be 7000+. That is a l-o-n-g way from the politically-derived number of 3000 that the livestock industry “allows” per the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

      2. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        That usually makes me mad to no end – to see people honking their horns when bison are in the road. Good thing that the bison pay no attention and go about their business. I did read something about a couple of creeps harassing one with their cars; Yellowstone rangers ought to arrest their asses – but they let the tourists run wild in there. 🙂

  6. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I think there may be too many for Yellowstone itself, but they need to be allowed to roam in a larger area/corridor. The only thing keeping them contained to Yellowstone are humans. They would occupy land that otherwise could be ranched/logged/mined/drilled, as we know ad nauseam. Now, science has debunked the brucellosis excuse, so it’s just a NO from the land use controllers and their servants.

    So what if there is another, small herd in the Henry Mountains of Utah? I don’t believe they naturally were native to Utah, but were put there by, you guessed it, humans changing the landscape. Correct me if I am wrong. But fine, they are there now, but bison belong everywhere there is open space for them.

    And cheatgrass – get rid of it. Don’t replace it with other nonnative species of grass, get the native seeds. (shaking my head that ‘they don’t have enough native seeds.)

  7. Amre Avatar

    Can’t say I’m surprised.

  8. Brett Haverstick Avatar

    A positive from this is the distinct population segment recognition. That positions the listing of the buffalo under the ESA in the future. Of course, its needed now.

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