State-Sponsored Kidnapping and Extraordinary Rendition Threatens Yellowstone Buffalo

Bison await shipment to slaughter after being processed and tested for brucellosis by Park Service employees at the Stephens Creek facility, located at the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park.

“Extraordinary Rendition” at Stephens Creek trap, located inside Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Michelle McCarron)

Yellowstone’s wild, free-roaming buffalo are wildlife.

The biggest threat to wild buffalo today is settler-colonialism, domestication, and plantation farming for trophy hunters. Unfortunately, 21st-Century American colonial adventures persist in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In February 2024, 141 wild Yellowstone buffalo were kidnapped, loaded into trucks, and relocated to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, some 500 miles North of their ancestral homeland in Yellowstone National Park.

To colonize is to plant or establish a colony in; to plant or settle subjects of a native territory in a remote location, for the purpose of cultivation, commerce, defense — and for permanent residence.

The term colonization is derived from the Latin words colere (“to cultivate, to till”), colonia (“a landed estate”, “a farm”) and colonus (“a tiller of the soil”, “a farmer”); and then by extension “to inhabit.”

Colonialism is dominion. Colonialism is domestication.

Indian reservations accepting government-kidnapped wild buffalo and relocating them on strange, unknown lands accept and repeat the same conqueror, settler-colonial concepts (mindset) foundational to American imperial rule.

Under the direction of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS-USDA) surveillance-detention (“quarantine”) and extra-territorial abduction and rendition program, wild Yellowstone buffalo are being farmed (domesticated), commodified and traded on an emerging wild meat market that converts wildlife into livestock.

This diabolical arrangement (public-private partnership) sidesteps long-standing Montana laws against Texas-style game farming, and “canned hunting.” Canned hunting caters to wealthy trophy hunters with animals kept in a confined area, typically a fenced enclosure on a private ranch.

Since 2019, the so-called Yellowstone Bison Conservation Transfer Program has kidnapped over 400 wild, free-roaming Yellowstone buffalo and trucked them to the 320-acre quarantine pen at the Fort Peck Reservation. After one year in captivity, many are trucked to other Indian Reservations under rules invented and enforced by the APHIS-USDA through the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council.

What’s not being disclosed is how this colonial trafficking operation is adversely affecting the genetic legacy of Yellowstone’s wild buffalo populations. Almost all Indian Reservation buffalo herds are fenced in. Game farming causes inbreeding and prevents their natural migration instinct.

The live-capture and re-colonization of Yellowstone buffalo is at bottom a privatization and domestication process, not “restoration.”

According to APHIS-USDA, there has been concern about the presence of brucellosis in the Yellowstone National Park (YNP) bison herd since the inception of the Cooperative State-Federal Brucellosis Eradication Program in 1934. Yet, after 90 years of research and “concern,” no brucellosis transmission from wild buffalo to cattle has been documented.

Converting wild Yellowstone buffalo into domesticated livestock is a crime against nature. Most private, corporate, federal, state, and ‘tribal’ laws, rules and policies undercut the natural evolution of Yellowstone’s wild bison genome.

We should honor and celebrate the Blackfeet Nation’s bold, historic leap forward by returning wild free-roaming buffalo to their native homeland after being displaced for more than 140 years.

On June 26, 2023, 49 bison were released onto sacred Blackfeet Nation land near Nínaiistáko (Chief Mountain), on Glacier National Park’s eastern boundary.

Blackfeet release wild buffalo

Glacier National Park welcomed the buffalo’s return, saying that “these bison will be treated as any other wildlife in the park and be allowed to roam freely on the landscape.”

If others follow the Blackfeet Nation’s example by removing fences, challenging claims of state sovereignty and rethinking our relationship with Mother Nature, we can begin to imagine an to end the domestication and genocide of wild buffalo.

The long-term preservation of this unique wild genome is important to buffalo, to indigenous peoples and to the world.

Steve Kelly is a an artist and environmental activist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.