Mismanagement and the Domestication of Yellowstone Bison

For 24 years Buffalo Field Campaign has been on the frontlines in the Yellowstone ecosystem advocating for the protection of the only continuously wild bison herds in the United States. During that time, the State of Montana has captured management control of Yellowstone National Park and the Custer Gallatin National Forest via the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Montana can only afford to suppress wildlife on that scale with millions of federal taxpayer dollars flowing annually to a plan that is doomed to fail America’s National Mammal.

Members of Congress must join us in ending the taxpayer-funded and government-driven slaughter of bison and direct the National Park and National Forest to permit bison the freedom to roam the ecosystem as the wildlife they are. Montana, via Montana Code Annotated § 81-2-120, has been the driving force hindering wild bison restoration beyond Yellowstone National Park on millions of acres of National Forest lands. For decades Montana has held bison management captive under the control of the state’s livestock department.

Today, federal and state agencies are seemingly trapped in a paradigm that there is no room for our National Mammal on our public lands. Under existing management priorities, Americans are witnessing the annual slaughter and quarantine of the only continuously-wild herd of bison in the lower 48 states. That is a travesty we must halt. Of the hundreds of thousands of bison across the country, only the few thousand bison living in and around Yellowstone National Park are true wildlife. Americans are being led to believe bison can only survive as a remnant population belonging within national park boundaries, behind a fence, or dead. This notion is not founded in science or fact.

On the contrary, a vibrant bison population allowed to fill the Yellowstone ecological niche has profound, positive benefits. Fundamentally, it protects the wild integrity and characteristics, and unique genetics by naturally restoring a viable population without human manipulation. Most importantly, a healthy population outside of the park boundary – on a mere fraction of the buffalo’s historic range – begins to heal and support ecosystem health as a keystone species. Those ecosystem services would protect many other species of plants and animals, by building resiliency against climate change, disease, and human-caused impacts. The public lands system outside of Yellowstone National Park is vast. Our publicly-owned lands in the region can accommodate a much larger population of wild bison, and there are thousands of acres of private land that would also welcome them home. It is time to reallocate the resources our taxes provide, to protect and restore wild, migratory bison across the region.

James Holt, Sr. is the Executive Director of Buffalo Field Campaign a Nez Perce Tribal Member.