Expansion and Restoration of Bison to Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem


Yellowstone bison are a globally unique animal. Harsh winters can drive bison out of the park where they are often killed. Photo George Wuerthner 

Yellowstone’s bison are unique, essentially influenced by natural evolutionary processes since the Park’s early days. Today the herd has grown to approximately 6,000 animals. Still, the ability of these bison to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park is severely limited by hunting, capture, and slaughter practices.

Since 1985 nearly 10,000 Yellowstone’s bison have been killed or removed from the park ecosystem.

Gut piles are left behind that poison eagles and other savengers who ingest the lead bullets. 

The biggest obstacle facing Yellowstone bison is the freedom to roam. Unlike all other wildlife in the Park, bison are systematically slaughtered when they attempt to migrate north of the Park near Gardiner, Montana.

The heads of bison killed by tribal hunters adjacent to Yellowstone NP. Photo George Wuerthner 

The current bloodbath severely affects Yellowstone’s bison evolution and genetic diversity—at least 1200 bison have been killed so far this winter.

Yellowstone’s founding population of 25 bison means the herd has gone through at least one genetic bottleneck. The periodic removal of bison by slaughter further reduces this genetic diversity, providing to the problem of genetic drift and the increase of maladaptive alleles in the bison population.

This genetic bottleneck is further complicated by bison being tournament breeders, meaning one bull may contribute to the genetic makeup of many offspring.


Bison grazing near Gardiner, Montana just inside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Photo George Wuerthner 

Also, the annual killing of bison eliminates the animals most inclined to migrate. Bison, as herd animals, transmit “cultural knowledge” across generations about where to migrate, how to avoid predators and other survival information Over time this selective factor could reduce bison’s natural mobility tendencies if it hasn’t already.

Bison slaughter is taking food out of the mouth of the Park’s native wildlife. Hunting and slaughter remove bison carcasses availability from Yellowstone’s other wildlife, from scavenging ravens to grizzly bears. As Bozeman conservationist Phil Knight has characterized it, the slaughter is a strip-mining of the Park’s biomass.

Notably, nearly all bison herds outside of Yellowstone have been domesticated, with many possessing various degrees of cattle genes, including bison in Yellowstone. Most bison in the lower 48 states are found on private ranches where they are managed like livestock.

Bison herd at Ted Turner’s ranch near Gallatin Gateway are among the many private herds managed more like livestock than wild animals. Photo George Wuerthner 

There are only 17 conservation herds with approximately 17,000 animals. But even these “conservation herds” are managed in multiple ways that results in domestication of them, including annual population reductions (aka, National Bison Range, for instance).

The Yellowstone bison are the least compromised of all bison found in the United States. While early management emphasized feeding and protecting the few remaining bison, for the most park, the Park’s bison were shaped by natural evolutionary processes like predation, drought, harsh winters, disease, and other factors that shape the genome.

James Bailey has written a book American Plains Bison: Rewilding an Icon arguing for preserving Yellowstone’s unique genetic traits and maintaining wildness as an essential trait.

He argues effectively that the genetic composition of all our bison has been and is being changed by six processes: 1) continental and local founder effects limiting genetic diversity to that of very few animals; 2) crossbreeding with domestic cattle genes; 3) inbreeding; 4) genetic drift; 5) artificial, human-determined selection; and 6) natural selection.

Together, the first five weaken or replace natural selection, especially in commercial bison herds where domestication is underway. But all five processes exist in our conservation herds of bison as well.

Tribal members butcher a Yellowstone bison killed just outside of Yellowstone NP. Photo George Wuerthner

The domestication of most non-park bison herds makes the Yellowstone bison even more unique and of global significance. The fact that they are slaughtered regularly by public agencies and/or tribal hunters, even if the animals are eaten, would be analogous to cutting down centuries-old redwoods to build decks.

Part of this debate concerns the state of Montana’s brucellosis policy, which limits the movement of bison outside of the Park due to fears that bison can transmit the disease to livestock. This disease transmission fear is primarily a bogus argument since elk can move freely and have transmitted brucellosis to livestock but are not shot or limited to Yellowstone Park.

In the past few decades, while there has been an overall decline in elk wintering in the Park, bison numbers have increased.

There are concerns that the current Park bison population of 6,000 is too high, with some range ecologists suggesting the high numbers are harming the vegetation, particularly in the Lamar Valley. Some suggest bison were never abundant in the Park proper, though regionally abundant outside of the park. Richard Keigley makes a case that prior to the 1840s bison did not exist in any numbers in the park. However, this conclusion is based on the lmiit number of primary sources, basically Osborn Russell, who tranversed Yellowstone a number of times between 1834-1838 and did not report bison. Nevertheless, Keigley’s paper contains quite a bit of good historical background on Yellowstone bison.

For instance, the Lewis and Clark expedition on its return trek traveled across the Gallatin Valley (where Bozeman today is located) and William Clark reported bison “roads” running “in every direction”. Sacagawea who was with Clark told him that her people (Shoshone) had had a local hunting impact on buffalo driving them out of the valley.

Similar reports for bison abundance in the region surrounding the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were reported by traders and fur trappers. There would appear to be no reason why at least small numbers of bison would not have seasonally migrated into what is now Yellowtone National Park. For instance, in 1866 prospector Bart Henderson mentions encountering “thousands” of bison along Buffalo Creek just north of the park in what is now the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.

At least early observations suggest that bison were present, though perhaps not as abundant as found today. As Park Historian Lee Whittlesey observed “The historical record suggests that bison were there all along and in good numbers.”

The second superindent of Yellowston Philetus Norris reported in his 1877 annual report that “nearly 2000 hides of Rocky Mountain Elk, nearly as many each of bison deer and antelope, and scores of not hundreds of moose and bison were taken out of the park in the spring of 1875, probably 7000, or an annual average of 1000 of them, and hundreds if not thousands of each of these other animals have been thus killed since its discovery in 1870.” He goes on to note that in the eastern portion of the park:  “there is still a herd of three hundred or four hundred of the curly nearly black bison or mountain buffalo,”

For a more complete review of wildlife observations, see Lee Whittlesey and Sarah Bone’s The History of Mammals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem 1796-1881 and compansion The History of Mammals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem 1796-1881 : A multi disciplinary Anaylsis of Thousands of Historical Observations Vol. 2. These historians documents 475 bison observations early in the park history, however, only 4 were within the park boundaries during the early period.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there were virtually no travelers to record wildlife observations in what is now Yellowstone Park until the 1870s.

One of the first places in the West where bison were extirpated by Indian hunting was in Southeast Idaho and adjacent parts of northern Utah, western Wyoming and southwest Montana. By 1840, according to Yellowstone Park historian, Lee Whittlesey, bison were essentially gone from this region where they had once been relatively abundant.map of bison dististribution.

With the demise of the regional bison population, almost entirely due to Indian hide hunting,  tribes like the Bannock began to make annual treks to hunt bison on the plains starting around 1838, and at least some of the time, they traveled through what is now Yellowstone Park. Whittlesey speculates that tribal hunting in what is now the park may have reduced bison within what is now Yellowstone.  Unfortunately, we have no way to confirm or deny this speculation since there were no written reports about what is now Yellowstone Park  this early except for a few journals like those of Osborn Russell.

The debate centers on how many bison are appropriate in Yellowstone.


Yellowstone Park staff, suggest that bison are ecosystem engineers shaping the Park’s vegetation and that the Park could sustain as many as 10,000 bison. A good book on Yellowstone bison is Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society.

I won’t go into the nuances of this debate, but a couple of points to consider. There are valid concerns on both sides of this debate.

However, when the Park was established, the climate was considerably colder and snowier. It was the tail end of the Little Ice Age, so the capacity of what is now Yellowstone to sustain any large ungulate herds year-round was likely lower in the 1800s than at present.

Bison migrating through Roosevelt Arch entrance at Gardiner, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

In the pre-settlement era, wildlife, including elk, bison, and pronghorn, were not restricted to the park boundaries and could easily migrate to lower-elevation winter ranges outside of what is now Yellowstone Park.

Archeological evidence shows that bison occasionally roamed higher elevations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Still, this use of high country varied with climate, as did the human population dependent upon them. For instance, during a particularly drought period about 7,000 years ago, archeological evidence for human use of Yellowstone increased significantly but declined with cooler temperatures. So the temporal period is critical to understanding both wildlife and human history in what is known as Yellowstone.

Bison herd in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone NP. Photo George Wuerthner 

There is no doubt that bison utilized high country at least seasonally throughout the ecosystem. I have found bison tracks and dung at elevations of over 10,000 feet in the North Absaroka Wilderness along Yellowstone’s eastern border, so it’s not inconceivable that bison utilized all available habitat in the pre-settlement era from lower elevation snow-free winter range to alpine meadows.

Part of this debate on the appropriate number of Yellowstone bison should focus on where the animals are found. In other words, there is more habitat for bison within Yellowstone that is currently unused such as the extensive meadows in the Bechler region, though given the heavy snowfall in that portion of the park, bison would likely have to migrate outside of the park to survive the winters. However, even if bison were able to colonize all these nooks and crannies, it eventually would exceed the Park’s capacity to sustain bison.

Tribal members have killed hundreds of bison as they seek to migrate to snow-free areas near Gardiner, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

Even with the expansion of habitat use within the Park, there is a desperate need to expand Yellowstone’s bison numbers and distribution. The best way to accomplish this is to foster the recolonization of suitable habitats throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).

One way to reduce the grazing impacts that some researchers observe, while still preserving the genetic and evolutionary  traits of Yellowstone bison is to expand the landscape available to them so they are not bottled up behind the artifical line of the park border. Reestablishing migratory movement is critical to addressing both concerns.

We must consider restoring bison across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and other larger public lands entities like the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in Montana. To learn more about the potential for bison restoration along the Missouri River/CMR, see the Wild Bison Coalition.

Notwithstanding the numerous opportunities to establish native wild bison in other parts of the West like the Charles M. Russell NWR, there is equal opportunity to expand bison herds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to create a “meta-population” of linked herds. Such a meta-population would be sufficiently large enough to reduce the problems of inbreeding depression, random genetic drift, inbreeding depression, and other issues associated with smaller populations.

Bison herd in Yellowstone NP. Photo George Wuerthner 

The area north of Gardiner, Montana, lies in a rain shadow of the Gallatin Range. Annual precipitation is approximately 11 inches, less than Tucson, Arizona, while precipitation of 70 inches (translating into many feet of snow) has been recorded on Yellowstone’s Pitchstone Plateau.

While snow may be piled 2 feet deep in Bozeman, there is often no snow at all at Gardiner, even though it exists at a higher elevation than Bozeman. Indeed, in the 1930s, agricultural lands north of Gardiner were added to Yellowstone to increase the winter range. So, expanding the park boundary to accommodate wintering wildlife is not new.

The largely snow-free lands surrounding the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area north of Yellowstone NP. Photo George Wuerthner 

The “tolerance” area for bison north of Yellowstone Park is currently limited. This tolerance area could be expanded northward by approximately 20 miles, to include Tom Miner Basin, Dome Mountain, the Dome Mountain State Wildlife Management Area, and adjacent Custer Gallatin National Forest areas. Enlarging the tolerance area would significantly open up much-needed lower elevation winter range for bison use.

One way to accomplish this would be to legislatively “expand” Yellowstone Park north of Yankee Jim Canyon to include lands currently managed by the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Indeed, a good argument could be made that the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem should come under the NPS management since it is one of the few temperate ecosystems that is still relatively intact, thus of global significance.

Other legislative proposals like the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act that would designate wilderness status for all roadless lands surrounding Yellowstone are also a step in the right direction.

Some bison survive the winter by frequenting Yellowstone’s thermal basins, where snow is lower, and temperatures can be warmer. Photo George Wuerthner

However, even without legislation, many other parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem could sustain small to medium bison herds. Connectivity between these herds would be necessary to ensure long-term genetic diversity preservation. Collectively these herds could comprise a metapopulation of thousands of bison.

Many of the following areas are high-elevation regions, with snowy and harsh winter conditions, but similar to the existing bison habitat in Yellowstone National Park.

Among the prominent areas that could sustain bison recolonization are the following areas:

  1. Hebgen Basin/Upper Gallatin River and adjacent tributaries, Montana. The area from Big Sky south to West Yellowstone has numerous sites, like the Taylor Fork in the Madison Range and the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine area of the Gallatin Range, suitable for bison recolonization.
  2. Island Park/Sand Creek, Idaho. The Island Park area and adjacent Sand Creek Wildlife Area could provide a migratory bison herd’s summer and winter habitat.
  3. Centennial Valley/Gravelly Range/Snowcrest Range, Montana. This area to the West of Yellowstone NP has substantial public land holdings, including Red Rock Lakes NWR, and significant proposed wilderness in the Centennial Mountains, Gravelly Range, and Snowcrest Ranges. In addition, several state wildlife management areas like the Robb Ledford WMA exist.
  4. Mount Leidy Highlands/Teton Wilderness/Gros Ventre River/Wilderness, Wyoming. A small bison herd already exists in Grand Teton National Park. Expansion of this herd’s habitat use to the mountains east of the Tetons would permit a much larger population to utilize the area. Overall, this is snowy country, and the size of any herds would naturally be limited by harsh winters.
  5. Upper Shoshone/Greybull Rivers, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. These rivers that flow eastward off the Absaroka Mountains lie in the “rain shadow” of the peaks and thus tend to have shallow snow conditions that could sustain wintering bison.
  6. Clark Fork of the Yellowstone/Pryor Mountains/Bighorn NRA, Montana/Wyoming. This region lies in the lee of the Beartooth Mountains, which exceed 12,000 feet. Consequently, one of the most arid locations in all of Montana and adjacent Wyoming is found in this area.
    The Pryor Mountains are Montana’s Utah–very arid and snowfree at lower elevations. A superb place for bison restoration. Photo George Wuerthner 

Indeed, the lower elevations of the Pryor Mountains and adjacent Bighorn NRA are sometimes called Montana’s Utah due to the red rock/limestone geological features. The area is mainly snow-free in winter but with access to much higher summer pastures in mountain areas like the Pryor Mountains.

The Upper Green/Union Pass area offers tremendous opportunity to reestablish a major migratory bison herd. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Union Pass-Upper Green River, Wyoming. The Union Pass/Upper Green River/Red Desert is a second Lamar Valley in terms of wildlife potential. The area is already home to elk, pronghorn, grizzlies, wolves, and moose. The only large mammal it lacks is bison. The Upper Green River was once the location of extensive bison herds documented by many fur traders and trappers in the 1820-the 1840s. Restoring bison to this region would permit migration southwards from the high country in the Wind River and Gros Ventre Ranges into the Red Desert area. The Red Desert is the largest unfenced area in the western US.
  2. Gray’s Lake/Salt River Valley/Bear River, Idaho. This part of the GYE sustained large bison herds in the past, and could once more.

If bison could be established throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as one meta-population, it would preserve much of this population’s evolutionary and genetic diversity.

Increasing bison numbers across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem would have other ecological benefits.

For instance, weak or dead bison numbers would increase across the landscape, making them available to predators like grizzly bears and wolves, substantially increasing overall survival. To a sow grizzly with cubs finding a dead bison in the spring is like winning the lottery; it is an abundance of high-quality food at a time when other sources of sustenance are limited. For instance, Yellowstone’s grizzlies eat more meat than almost any bear subpopulation. In the past, this was primarily elk. However, an increase in bison would provide a substantial additional food resource when other dietary options like whitebark pine nuts are declining.

Although not my intent, if bison numbers across the ecosystem were substantially increased, limited hunting by tribal people and others could conceivably be instituted without harming the overall bison genotype or evolutionary behavior.

One obvious obstacle to the recolonization and restoration of bison across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the presence of domestic livestock on public lands. Bison dietary preferences are similar to cattle, and no doubt, beyond even the alleged fear of brucellosis transmission, livestock producers do not relish the idea of forage competition between bison and cows.

The best way to alleviate this competition for public forage is to remove domestic livestock from all proposed bison restoration areas. Although grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right, the political influence of the livestock industry makes any reduction in livestock grazing difficult.

The Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Act could elimiante public lands cattle grazing seen here on the Bridger Teton National Forest, Wyoming. George Wuerthner 

The Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Act entices ranchers to abandon public lands grazing lands. The proposal would pay ranchers to give up grazing privileges in exchange for an agreed-upon cash payment.

Other potential problems that could be foreseen are the issue of bison movement through fences or the occupation of private lands. These issues can be dealt with case-by-case, including lease agreements with ranchers to tolerant bison grazing or movement across private lands. Such an agreement was negotiated with the Church Universal and Triumphant Church (CUT), who own significant lands just north of Yellowstone near Gardiner.

Groups that are advocating for restoration of wild bison including Yellowstone VoicesWild Bison Restoration Coalition, Roam Free Nation, Alliance for Wild Rockies, and the Gallatin Wildlife Association. Yellowstone Voices, in particular, has videos of the on-going bison slaughter so one can see first hand how our national mammal is being treated.

Restoring Yellowstone bison to the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a worthwhile project analogous to restoring wolves, grizzlies, and other wildlife. We can repair what was previously degraded and diminished to the ecosystem by restoring bison across the landscape. It’s time to get started.



  1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    Ultimately, I’d like to see large numbers of bison mainly reintroduced to the prairies and grasslands, from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This is where the large majority of bison were before colonization, and those habitats not only suit bison needs more than other habitats, but are far more amenable to large herds of bison grazing them occasionally.

    I agree with George about restoring bison to the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for now, because we need to greatly increase the numbers of these bison whose genes haven’t been polluted with those of cattle, or at least polluted a lot less than other bison currently existing. Once that’s done and the native predators and ungulates are also restored to historic numbers, this bison population will stabilize at its ecologically-balanced level. Meanwhile, large numbers of these bison could be used to restore wild bison to the prairies and grasslands, where the large majority of them used to roam. Of course the native predators and other native ungulates would also need to be reintroduced to those ecosystems, starting with wolves, in order to restore the natural ecological balance.

    None of this considers political realities or human desires. I’m just talking about what would be good for the Earth, the ecosystems, and life in general.

    1. Maryk Avatar


      The way bison and cattle are managed at Yellowstone permits free or subsidized use of the land and water by private businesses on public land for their livestock–

      and the so-called hunt, where people drive up or go along ski trails to shoot bison with high powered rifles and then drive away– done in the name of cultural correctness and economic stress of those shooting the animals– makes a joke out of those ‘hunting’ and the Dept. of the Interior’s stated goal of spending “$25 million to help conserve and restore the herds across the West.”

      This hunt killed ‘hundreds of pregnant females’ and removed around 20% of the overall herd at a cost of destruction to the

      1) Establish migration corridors for bison?

      2) Adhere to rule of not killing pregnant female animals?

      3) Provide economic help and excellent public education to the shooters of these animals?

      4) Require cultural hunts be just that: with culturally historic weapons, not high-powered hunting gear? With comfortable clothing, trucks, and high-end gear– this ‘hunt’ is more like a do-it-yourself slaughterhouse, not actual hunting. How much pride and “connection” can anyone take in that?

      5) Reintroduce predators, who effectively manage prey populations by killing the old, weak, and sick?

      Mass Yellowstone Hunt Kills 1,150 Bison

      A months-long event, just outside the park, was intended to keep the animals from spreading a disease to livestock. But its scope and other removal measures affecting hundreds more have generated opposition.

  2. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Thank you again George for your dedication to restoring our native species to their native lands. You have “set-the-table” and provided a full menu for government officials to get off their fat…. and let the the Yellowstone bison be able to roam free, without being slaughtered when they take a step outside of the invisible boundary of Yellowstone Nat. Park.

  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    “Yellowstone bison are a globally unique animal.”

    Why don’t people appreciate this? Most seem to be perfectly happy with endless human activity and development, and blissfully unaware of any of this.

    I can’t stand to even look at the modern-day hunting of them

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I should add that yes, I totally support the expansion of bison on the landscape as much as possible, so that they can migrate and live as they evolved to live, in concert with the grasslands. The same for other wildlife.

  5. Lyn McCormick Avatar
    Lyn McCormick

    There has to be a financial incentive for ranchers to transition from a livestock operation. We advocated for something similar for managing wild horses, it was called the Stock Exchange. We calculated that if the BLM contracted with the Permittees to manage wild horses ON the range, at the going OFF range long term holding rates the ranchers could make more $ than a livestock operation. A Fremont County WY linear programming model showed the data from an 800 head cow / calf operation was $50 net revenue / head / year. There’s not much profit at those rates, barely enough to pay for full-time ranch help.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Or we could have a moral society that prioritizes the Earth, its ecosystems & habitats, and the native life there. That society wouldn’t allow cattle grazing anywhere. If paying off ranchers is what it takes to get rid of the damn cattle, I’m all for it, but we shouldn’t be in that position in the first place.

  6. Jerry L Thiessen Avatar
    Jerry L Thiessen

    Thanks George. I would rather see bison on public lands over domestic livestock any day of the week.
    A couple things: Since the entire Yellowstone ecosystem’s bison population is built on a foundation stock of 25-35 animals, how can removal of any today, from a population in the multiple thousands, negatively effect the gene pool? Also, let’s not forget that brucellosis was brought to the west by cattle. If there is a disease problem it is because of cattle, not because of elk or bison.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Good question.

      I would add that all the problems here are because of people, not the cattle, bison, wolves etc.

      1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
        Jeff Hoffman

        Cattle are a problem CAUSED by people. They wouldn’t even exist if not for people.

  7. Kimball Leighton Avatar
    Kimball Leighton

    Few people have any idea of the cruelty with which we’ve treated America’s national symbol for the last 30 years — largely for the benefit of Montana stockmen. Anyone with contacts at the New York Times, please call this deplorable situation to the paper’s attention. The Times is the principal reason wolf restoration wasn’t stopped by Montana’s stockmen in the mid-1990s.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      After the ’90s, Obama delisted wolves as endangered in a political move to appease ranchers & farmers in Montana in exchange for their support of Jon Tester for Senate. The New York Times is basically an organ of the Democratic Party, don’t know that we’d get any support for bison now if that support conflicts with the interests of ranchers.

  8. Rambling Dave Avatar
    Rambling Dave

    Thanks for another excellent essay, George. As a former blogger myself I appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to put together a quality piece of writing like this.

    Last year I spent several weeks around the bison herds that live at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The Park Service allows unguided off-trail hiking in most of the backcountry units and I was ranging freely throughout the area. Mostly I was interested in the plateau’s fire ecology and how the forest was re-adapting to wildfire but soon fell in love with the bison. It was a truly magical experience coming upon them in the trees and canyons, requiring much route finding and stealthy movement to avoid spooking them. They are indeed ecosystem engineers and had created extensive trail networks that I and the other non-human residents (deer, mountain lion, etc) used to travel through the rugged terrain.

    There was a bison hunt going on just outside the Park boundaries and I had the opportunity to speak with many of the hunters. Most were rich, out-of-state trophy hunters who’d paid exorbitant sums for the privilege and much more for so-called “expert guides” to help them find the bison. The guides’ strategy was little more than to set up a Cabella’s hunting blind above a dried-up waterhole and seal the clients inside, smelling each other’s farts and BO for a week or ten days until they tired of it and left empty handed. I’m not aware of anyone getting a bison during the time I was there. They were not “hunters” and not good people – most probably didn’t know the difference between a bison and a porcupine.

    As for the bison themselves, they had no need to leave the Park and knew exactly where the safe/not-safe boundary was. I noted many places where the animals had obviously walked just inside the downed wire fences, daring the hunters to take a shot at them. I’m sure it was very frustrating for the hunters.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Hunting to eat is one thing. Trophy hunting should be punished the same way murder is. And even if it’s for food, no guns!!!

      1. Rambling Dave Avatar
        Rambling Dave

        Hi, Jeff. My thoughts are that if hunting is to be allowed at all, whether it be for food or so-called “sport”, then it should be prosecuted using the most accurate, most efficient, and most humane tools and methods available. Today that means using guns.

        Personally, were I in charge, I’d phase out the practice of hunting as we know it and give the job back to native predators. They eat what they kill, waste little, provide ecosystem services, and drive evolution in their prey species. Modern humans do none of those things. Maybe we once did, but not for a long time…

        1. Jerry L Thiessen Avatar
          Jerry L Thiessen

          Speaking of evolution and what drives it, modern man has been around for 75,000 plus years and in N. America for maybe 20,000 years. Common white-tailed deer,for example, date back 700,000 years plus. I am skeptical that man has interrupted the natural evolution of any species. Really tough to prove because there are no control regions or methods to measure evolutionary drift over great spans of time. Conjecture is a poor substitute for evidence.
          Let’s not forget that “dead is dead” regardless of how it is administered.

          1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
            Jeff Hoffman

            What about human-caused extinctions? Those are the ultimate human interruption of natural evolution. What about human-caused ecosystem or habitat destruction by things like logging, mining, livestock grazing, draining swamps, paving over the Earth, etc.? What about human killings of vast numbers of most megafauna, both directly and indirectly? These are all examples of humans interrupting natural evolution.

            1. Jerry L Thiessen Avatar
              Jerry L Thiessen

              Well taken Jeff. I was not thinking about man caused extintions but rather the idea of altering the evolutionary trajection of living life forms. Natural mass extinctions are not new either.
              I read your piece. I don’t know what you have been smokin but I want some.

              1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                Jeff Hoffman

                It’s not just extinctions. Humans have killed 70-90% of all terrestrial megafauna. That has multiple effects on the evolution on both those species, and on all other species that interact with them. For example, too few of a species causes inbreeding, and causes their food, whether plants or animals, to overpopulate.

                As to smoking, as we were taught in eastern mysticism, the best idea is not to smoke anything. Even psychedelic plants could the mind, so better to get high naturally. Not a moral concern here, but if you want to reach your maximum potential in this regard, lay off the smoking. I realize that you were speaking figuratively, just thought I’d throw that in.

                1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                  Jeff Hoffman

                  That should read, “cloud the mind.’

                2. Jerry L Thiessen Avatar
                  Jerry L Thiessen

                  Your explanation is conjecture without evidence. If it’s going to happen it will more likely be in plants using GMO technology gone rogue.

                3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                  Jeff Hoffman

                  My explanation of what?

              2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                Jeff Hoffman

                Oh, and thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. Sorry I forgot to mention this in my previous post.

        2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          My view is that humans need to return to living naturally and to greatly lower our population; anything less will just result in continued ecological destruction and killing of native wildlife. I get your point about using efficient means for hunting, but in nature most hunts are unsuccessful, and it should be that way for humans also. I’m also strongly opposed to human technology like guns, which cause far more harm than they stop. Just the sound of guns firing is totally unnatural, and wildlife should not have to be subjected to that.

          As to your idea that humans should stop eating meat: Humans have ALWAYS eaten meat, and we need it for vitamin B-12, unless you want to use artificial sources like dairy or supplements. Dairy means cows, which cause massive ecological harm by their mere existence, and supplements are totally unnatural by definition (always better to eat food than to take supplements, even western doctors will tell you that). Humans need very little vitamin B-12, so we could eat meat just once or twice/month and we’d get enough of it. The problem isn’t humans eating meat per se, it’s that 1) humans eat farmed meat instead of wild meat; 2) humans who eat meat eat far too much of it, generally daily; and 3) there are far too many people on the planet, so that even if humans individually weren’t overconsuming meat, as a whole we would be.

          Of course my overall goals of returning to living naturally and greatly lowering our population are very long-term goals. But they can certainly be accomplished if we were to try to do so. See my outline here for more details: https://rewilding.org/fixing-humans-by-expanding-our-consciousness/

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            The problem is too many people eating meat and too much of it. We don’t need to eat as much of it as we do, and too much does affect human health.
            I think as hunter/gatherers we were built for feast or famine, just like other meat-eating animals. So too much isn’t healthy.

            I don’t eat much meat anymore, and gave up red meat and pork entirely. I never had much of a taste for beef, and don’t miss it.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              I don’t like any farmed meat. I was limiting my occasional meat consumption to wild fish & seafood, but I stopped that after seeing Seaspiracy (things are way worse than I realized before I saw that film). https://www.seaspiracy.org/ I now get my vitamin B-12 from eggs once in a while, no more than once/week.

        3. Maryk Avatar

          If native peoples want to connect with their ancestors, that is important and vital and they should be able to do that.

          Should that happen at the expense of mismanagement of wildlife in this new modern world, where ever increasing numbers of people and their activities are crowding out all wildlife to the point where we are now seeing mass extinctions?

          The fact is: the facts have changed.

          We now have so many more people that we must either change what we’re doing, or say goodbye to plants and animals and ecosystems.

          Bison are regarded as a “keystone species” of the plains because they have a ripple effect on every species that lives in this ecosystem. Like the stone found at the top of an arch, if you remove it, the rest of the system will collapse. https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/ab/elkisland/nature/eep-sar/ecologie-ecology2

  9. Jay Shell Avatar

    It’s one thing to want to see changes in pubic policy. It’s another to engage in the effort to make it happen. The steps to take are to engage in a publicity campaign to argue for the change by leading the conversation. The next step is to participate in initiative referendum signature gathering to achieve what state legislatures fail to do. Highway overcrossings for wildlife, ending trapping and bison reintroductions are all issues that could be addressed in this way. So, go for it!

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Study: “Biomass of humans and cattle dwarfs that of wild mammals”:


    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      And most people won’t acknowledge human overpopulation. Cognitive dissonance is the order of the day.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        The don’/won’t! There were a couple of articles about this, and most others just put the focus on livestock, but this one was straightforward. It’s really rather stunning to read, but not surprising, I guess.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          The sub-headline tells you all you need to know about this. That sub-headline should evoke a very strong, immediate, and global reaction, but the large majority of people don’t care about things like this, which is the heart of the problem.

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            Unfortunately true. The minority of those who do care will just have to a constant burr under their saddles.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              Yes. As the late great Dave Foreman put it, we should consider ourselves anti-bodies fighting the humanpox.

  11. Jerry L Thiessen Avatar
    Jerry L Thiessen

    For those of you interested in the history of modern bison, I refer you to an excellent piece written by George Wuerthner and posted in The Wildlife News on Sept. 2, 2020. I had forgotten about this well written and well documented article until I came across it recently. Not much more needs to be said about bison history or about bison vs. cattle on western semi arid ranges. George offers few opinions and a lot of scientific documentation. The kind of writing we need more of. I cannot recommend it more highly.
    “Bison ecology, ecological influence, behavior, and decline”. 9/2/2020.
    I hope you can find it. Or, better yet, George should republish it in the Wildlife News.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      The article was about the differences in how bison and domestic cattle effect ecosystems. While I very much appreciate the scientific FACTS in that article, the fact remains that even if ranchers were to use bison instead of domesticated cattle, there would still be a huge difference. Ranchers replaced the native grasses with non-native ones, put up fences, and kill both predators, and other ungulates they view as competitors with their cattle for food. Additionally, ranchers don’t allow cattle to roam anywhere near as much as wild bison did, so the cattle cause more harm by being in one area too long.

      Just wanted to add that little fact to the discussion.

  12. Maryk Avatar

    Just the fact that ranchers replaced the native grasses with non-native ones is so detrimental to wildlife: it is a food desert for the main food of birds, insects.

    Exotic (non-native) grasses and other plants do not support our local insect populations, which have evolved over millennia to eat native plants.

    This makes the area un-viable for migrating and local birds.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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