Yellowstone bison slaughter has begun

Up to 900 to soon die-

Today the annual cull of Yellowstone bison got underway. It is plenty contentious. I have been ranting about this nearly annual slaughter since 1996 on The Wildlife News and its previous incarnations.

In recent years it has been mostly out of sight just north of the Park’s northern boundary. They are mostly not killed at the northern boundary. The wild bison are captured and hauled off to slaughterhouses like a bunch of pathetic cattle. The trapping and shipping of bison to slaughter is supposed to end March 31.

This year the goal is to take out 600-900 bison. The Park’s population of them is over 4000. Given that the Park’s carrying capacity is only 6000 and bison reproduction is rapid for so large an animal, they do require more space than the Park provides. So regardless, some must eventually be killed one way or another.

There was some hope that tribal and Montana hunting seasons would eliminate the need for the slaughterhouse. In addition, some thought the reintroduction of wolves would make a significant difference. Neither the hunting nor the wolves have made enough of a difference. Only one wolf pack, the Mollies Park, has seriously taken to hunting wolves.

Rather than the slaughterhouse it seems to me that if the bison were distributed over a considerably larger area in Montana outside the Park, the hunt would make more difference. Perhaps too Park personnel could strategically kill some bison at carefully considered areas in the Park backcountry to help the grizzly population. Each carcass provides much bear nutrition. Bison carcasses inside Yellowstone will be more significant if the grizzly is delisted and the states take to hunting grizzlies in any way like they hunt the more resilient wolves.

Opposition to bison occupying more territory has long faced opposition from ranchers who say they fear bison will spread brucellosis to cattle if they share any range. It is frustrating that this myth never dies despite no biological evidence or cases of cattle with brucellosis from bison. There are, of course, cattle with brucellosis from elk, but the State of Montana has been wary about slaughtering elk.

One bright note is that this winter Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, issued a decision that would let bison use about 250-thousand acres of land adjacent to the Park boundaries on the northwest, and west sides of Yellowstone. The decision has yet to be adopted, however, by the Interagency Bison Committee.

Ranchers are trying to block the governor’s change. They say it will spread brucellosis, their weary battle cry. I have always thought the real reason is they don’t want to share the grass. Then too, keeping bison down is just another way of showing their sense of cultural superiority.

Journalist Chris Ketcham has been trying to cover the actual capture and penning of the bison, plus the shipment to slaughterhouse. The Park Service did not want him to see this. He and Stephanie Seay sued for an injunction to stop the capture, but they did not get it.

Today Ketcham has an article in the New York Times, “The Bison Roundup the Government Wants to Hide
– – – – –
Information from the Buffalo Field Campaign on how to contact the principals of the bison slaughter.

Contact Yellowstone National Park and Montana’s Governor to urge them to stop capture plans! There is no brucellosis threat from wild bison to cattle, and there is no overpopulation or “surplus” of ecologically extinct wild, migratory buffalo. The entire capture-for-slaughter plan is designed only to appease Montana livestock interests by catering to their unwarranted intolerance of native wild, migratory buffalo. People across the country and around the world oppose this disrespectful, brutal, and unnecessary mistreatment of wild buffalo.  Take action and demand that Yellowstone National Park cancel plans to capture for slaughter (or any reason) this country’s last wild buffalo herds!

Superintendent Dan Wenk can be reached by phone 307-344-2002   Montana Governor Steve Bullock can be reached by phone 406-444-3111




  1. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    We haven’t (and probably won’t, just like allowing the non-hunters to contribute to wildlife management) allow any other methods to be tried. This stranglehold that ranchers and extraction industries have on the West has to be broken up. We really haven’t given enough time for wolves and the theory of trophic cascade to become really evident. It doesn’t happen in a set number of years, a few human generations or lifetimes (our time keeping method) – and say, nope, doesn’t work, and discredit because we don’t want them to work. Our constant interfering limits how well trophic cascades can work. We can see that the Euro-American government and religion mindsets approved killings of wolves, bison and humans has been a major, major setback. We’re very callous to just say out of hand that they don’t work. I’m not always convinced that the human mind is intelligent, and we’re lacking in empathy except for the great show we make over our own kind (and then only for a select few also). We seem to get into habits that are hard to break.

    I was thinking also, about the Lolo wolves. Twenty wolves killed is an awful lot, don’t you think? That’s in addition to those legally hunted and those illegally hunted (poached). Nineteen were killed in the Lolo last year – so say roughly 20 wolves killed there every year.

    Any females might have been pregnant at this time of year? – so it truly is an extermination program, no matter how much agencies try to dress it up as a management program. So that means hundreds of wolves are killed in the West every year.

    Why do we allow it? It is truly bizarre. Someone posted an article about the elk in another part of Idaho whose numbers seemed to have come down (but of course nobody can be sure or can say so outright). So why are they so sure about the Lolo zone and why do we want to have elk there?

    1. Zoe Berger Avatar
      Zoe Berger

      Ida 100% with you but the “why do we allow it” problem is how do we stop it? There is so much wrong out there. I do have a particular soft spot for wolves but all of them are in peril. The latest killing of bison is more unconscionable crap. Another horror: It really is all of our wildlife. Farm animals don’t do any better. BLM. USDA, Forest Services, Wildlife Services ad nauseum as they say. It is so fragmented one doesn’t know where to point and say “STOP IT”. And it really is just like citizens united…ranchers and extraction industries, as you say, are calling the shots. Money speaks. There is no regard for life. It is impossible to try to logic with this mentality. There ARE groups out there trying to turn this around. But look at what they/we are up against. grrrr

  2. Kyle G Avatar
    Kyle G

    In terms of illegitimacy and immorality, public policy doesn’t get much worse than what’s going on in and around Yellowstone. Little wonder much of the brutality is hidden from public view; if there was widespread public knowledge, there would be a chance for real change. The entire IBMP policy is constructed on a false foundation of disease management as dictated by the beef industry. In fact this is nothing more than naked aggression and domination by an industry that is guilty of crimes against creation. What a complete farce, and we the people are also paying for this abject cruelty.

    The IBMP need to be scrapped, the cattle need to be permanently removed from the greater Yellowstone area and the Park Service needs to revise its misguided servitude to a small and close-minded minority of people who have far more power than their numbers (human or economic) indicate.

    We have to keep the pressure on those who perpetuate the fiasco and continue to work for a solution that puts the well-being of bison front and center, not in the cross hairs of paranoia and arrogance.

  3. snaildarter Avatar

    A sad story every year, last year a few hundred were given to the Turner Ranch and native Americans I wonder if that practice has continued. Also I think the ranchers are selfish morons but putting that aside there should be a way to quarantine the bison inoculate them and ship them all over the country to various wildlife refuges to help preserve purer wild Bison genes.

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      It’s not just the ranchers, I suspect. If bison were viewable in many other locations, how many people would travel to somewhere other than YNP to see them? ($$$) One attraction to bison in YNP is that they are ‘wild’ (whatever that means) and that they are still shaping the environment by their presence.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Attempts to inoculate bison have been made with several vaccines. They failed.

      Inoculation makes the bison test positive for brucellosis, just like about 50% of the wild bison do. How does one tell the difference?

      Since only a few per cent of the bison yield live brucella, can we assume that the 50% are as good as vaccinated anyway?

  4. Kathleen Avatar

    From the NPS, FAQs on bison management:
    “To date, the central and northern bison herds have not reached the estimated food-limited carrying capacity of approximately 5,500 to 7,500 bison inside the park. Also, several assessments of conditions by scientists and land managers have indicated the park is not overgrazed.” And…

    “National Park Service biologists have recommended maintaining a bison population that fluctuates between 2,500 and 4,500 to preserve ecological processes that meet conservation needs and to mitigate social and political conflicts in Montana.”

    Ah-ha! “Mitigate social and political conflicts in Montana”! More at:

    1. Kyle G Avatar
      Kyle G

      Thanks for the link – at least the monsters responsible for the fiasco are willing to admit the real issue. Plus the “carrying capacity” issue is just another ruse with no scientific justification despite being made by “NPS biologists.” Yet another pathetic example of scientists selling out in the name of political expediency.

  5. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Even though the Park Service does the capture, I do not blame Yellowstone NP for the slaughter of the native bison. There is only so much food inside the park and this time of year is when bison migrate outside the park.

    Looking at a map of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, you will see the vast majority of land adjacent to YNP on the west and north sides (areas where bison naturally migrate) as national forest land. I do not have first hand knowledge so maybe somebody can correct me but I believe it’s those national forest lands which have grazing allotments where the conflict occurs with the ranchers. NGO’s buyout the willing ranchers and the conflicts go bye bye. How do NGO’s have the ability to buy out ranchers, we the people contribute to them. The Conservation Fund is just one of many that is doing just what I described.

    When you truly “love” someone you do more than talk, you act. In this case, if someone truly cared and wanted this slaughter to end, he/she would write letters and invest whatever funds they could afford to NGO’s working to resolve this issue. Never seen any purpose for complaining or apathy for it never did any good. complaining

    1. Rich Avatar


      Your comment that – “NGO’s buyout the willing ranchers and the conflicts go bye bye.” is unfortunately not true. Land has been purchased and set aside specifically for use by bison outside the park boundary but to no avail. In fact some landowners on the west side of Yellowstone Park have put up large signs “PRIVATE PROPERTY – BISON SAFE ZONE” but to no avail. Until recently Montana cattlemen routinely trespassed on private property on horseback and ATVs to chase the bison off. The Governor has tried to put a stop to the trespassing but the bison are still being harassed off private property in Montana one way or another.

      I agree we need to support organizations like the Buffalo Field Campaign, Western Watersheds Project, and Earthjustice and I do. These organizations are making a difference and without them the bison would have no voice at all.

      1. Gary Humbard Avatar
        Gary Humbard


        That’s great there are Bison Safe Zones and Governor Bullock is working for enforcement. It will take time to enforce the trespassing, but I have little doubt it will subside over time.

        It appears on my map, national forest land makes up ~80% of the land adjacent to the park on the west and north sides. Do you know the general status of livestock grazing on those lands as it appears those lands WITHOUT livestock could alleviate the conflicts.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    This is from the Buffalo Field Campaign.

    Contact Yellowstone National Park and Montana’s Governor to urge them to stop capture plans! There is no brucellosis threat from wild bison to cattle, and there is no overpopulation or “surplus” of ecologically extinct wild, migratory buffalo. The entire capture-for-slaughter plan is designed only to appease Montana livestock interests by catering to their unwarranted intolerance of native wild, migratory buffalo. People across the country and around the world oppose this disrespectful, brutal, and unnecessary mistreatment of wild buffalo. Take action and demand that Yellowstone National Park cancel plans to capture for slaughter (or any reason) this country’s last wild buffalo herds!

    Superintendent Dan Wenk can be reached by phone 307-344-2002 Montana Governor Steve Bullock can be reached by phone 406-444-3111

    1. Zoe Berger Avatar
      Zoe Berger

      It really is totally out of control for so many species. Same deal in Idaho. Thanks Ralph. And Gary, I’ve written letters and copied various departments – and received not ONE reply. And I could not get through on the phone yesterday to Boise. I sign petitions and share them. If I had money I’d surely donate. It’s not so much complaining as expressing pain and horror at all this activity. But thank you too, for your thoughts.

  7. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I don’t think that we should necessarily assume that people who are ‘complaining’ or speaking out aren’t doing as well. Speaking out and bringing things out for discussion is action. At any rate, I’d bet that the majority of Americans don’t even do that much. Speaking out helps bring it into the public eye, and not just something going on that nobody knows about.

    As many have said, letter writing and petition signing and phone calling many times it seems are ignored. It’s naïve to think that as entrenched as all this is, that letters and phone calls are automatically going to be listened to. The throwing out of the wolf stamp speaks volumes.

    As far as donating, I want to donate to groups what I think will do the most good. Humane Society does tons, and WWP and the Buffalo Field Campaign are getting my attention.

  8. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    An interesting example regarding coyote slaughter (I can’t even believe this goes on in modern times).

    In a follow-up story on what some of its letter writers called a “barbaric” and “blood-thirsty” event, the Independent interviewed organizer Ty Brouwer, who pointed out their contest had no public opposition last year.

    But now that people have been speaking out, they do have more public opposition. The speaker-outers raise the most ire it seems, too. 🙂

      1. Zoe Berger Avatar
        Zoe Berger

        Thanks Ida. Yet another petition to sign and share. It is nauseating. There are the groups who are fighting in courts. I’d give to them if I could. Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds…

  9. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The National Bison Range controls their bison herd by having an annual auction. They sell about 50 each year. .
    Bidders seem to think that Bison are worth some pretty good money. The average bid price was over $1000.
    I read some where that these bison are genetically pure just like the Yellowstone Bison.

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      Oops I scrolled down on the link I posted and National Bison Range Bison do have a very low level of cattle DNA and they are brucellosis free.

  10. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Still, critics of the massive cull make some good points. Death without purpose is hard to swallow. The hunts aren’t really sporting. Most importantly, if brucellosis isn’t a real issue, why can’t bison just migrate outside the park like they once did?

    The answer, biologists told me, is that Montana’s landscape is already heavily influenced by people. Allowing bison populations to grow unchecked and roam at will would also mean re-establishing landscape-wide populations of wolves, allowing wildfire to burn freely, and training drivers, ranchers and municipalities to live with a new wild animal in their midst. It’s theoretically possible, but it won’t happen overnight.

    God forbid we’d have to inconvenience ourselves to make room for other species. 🙁

  11. greentangle Avatar

    I’ll repeat the comment I left on the HCN site.

    I lived in Mammoth Hot Springs for four years. One of my favorite memories is of a line of bison migrating back into the park in the early spring. They came loping down the Beaver Ponds trail behind the hotel, and the lead bison reached the green lawn and bucked like doing a dance of joy.

    I’m sorry I don’t have a video of that moment to share along the excellent suggestion in the first comment of streaming live slaughter. I also have to wonder if part of the reason bison get so temperamental about goring the tourists is that they’ve seen their friends and relatives randomly killed (and if you object to that possible emotion on their part, I assume you’ve never seen bison react to one of their group being killed).

  12. Kathleen Avatar

    From BFC two days ago:
    “And just a word of good news: the buffalo capture-for-slaughter has NOT begun. The buffalo left the are, left the Gardiner Basin, and for now…. they are staying safe! It’s truly amazing ~ they are such wise elders.”

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines


  13. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    While some people may be angry with the federal government because they want more handouts and entitlements, the rest of us are right to be furious at our public servant’s atrocious mistreatment of our wildlife and shared wild lands. Bison, wild horses, wolves, grizzly bears, prairie dogs, sage grouse and other imperiled wildlife are being systematically exterminated from our public and national lands, all to appease the endlessly-hungry livestock and hunting lobbies, our voices ignored and silenced as if our tax dollars and our votes don’t count. We have every right to be very angry, very active and very vocal.

    Yellowstone Bison Slaughtered Despite Best Science and Public Outcry


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