Yellowstone's bison are under threat from the moment they cross the park's boundary. Outdated management plans and misunderstandings have led to the routine roundup and slaughter of this wild icon of the American West.
Herds of bison grazing in Yellowstone’s Lamar and Hayden valleys are images that stay with visitors long after their travels end. Unseen are hundreds of bison rounded up and shipped to slaughter each winter or forced back into the park each spring by use of pickup trucks and wranglers on horseback — all under management rules set by an outdated plan. Bison, icons of our National Park System and our country’s heritage, deserve better.
On public and private land along Yellowstone’s borders with Montana, these magnificent animals are subject to aggressive management measures in response to fears over brucellosis — a disease that has never been passed to cows from Yellowstone bison. These fears have led to nearly 4,000 bison being shipped to slaughter since 2000.
In April 2016, a group of multiagency partners, including the state of Montana and the National Park Service, took a significant step forward for Yellowstone bison management by opening more than 330,000 acres of land adjacent to the western border of Yellowstone where the animals can now roam year-round for the first time in generations. This decision was the culmination of years of public input and will provide important habitat for this rare wild bison population — although the animals are still not fully protected. Under the constraints of the outdated management plan, bison continue to be shipped to slaughter each winter and forced back into the park each spring from habitat north of the park. NPCA will continue to advocate for a responsible management plan that will stop this unnecessary killing, provide bison additional room to roam and treat these animals similarly to other wildlife that migrate beyond Yellowstone’s borders.
The rebound of American bison numbers after their decimation in the late 1800s is a great conservation success story. Unfortunately, Yellowstone’s bison herd, the oldest in the United States, is under threat.
Today, you can spot bison on menus at steakhouses or in the grocery store freezer, which might lead you to believe the animals are thriving, but the number of bison still roaming wild is a tiny fraction of the larger population. Smaller still are the number with unique genetics, which makes the Yellowstone herd vital to the long-term survival of the species.
But outdated measures devised to curb the transmission of disease from bison to cattle have led officials to confine and slaughter bison for decades. As the National Park Service begins to work with tribes, the state of Montana and other agencies, NPCA hopes to carve out more space for the species, which has a special place on the landscape in and around Yellowstone.
Help give bison the Room to Roam!
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