Yellowstone bison, © Jonathan Proctor/Defenders

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

This week it got a little easier for landowners outside Yellowstone National Park to coexist with bison.

On Monday, Defenders of Wildlife, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club launched an incentive program to assist with bison fencing efforts in the area. This program is designed to support recent steps by Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and other state and federal agencies to allow more bison to roam outside Yellowstone National Park. Through the program, landowners in the Gardiner and Hebgen basins concerned about potential bison impacts can get reimbursed for 50 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing fencing, up to $1,000 per landowner, to keep bison off private property.

Bison often travel beyond park boundaries in search of food, particularly during harsh winters. Until recently, bison were simply hazed back inside the park, shot on sight, or shipped to slaughter (1,600 bison were slaughtered in 2008 alone). But in the last couple of years, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and state and federal agencies have agreed to let bison roam beyond the park boundaries. Additional changes may soon create year-round bison habitat outside the park. Montana’s wildlife agency just held two public meetings in the north and west gateway communities to Yellowstone National Park to gather public input on its proposal to expand habitat available by bison outside the park by around 350,000 acres! Public support for this proposal appeared to outweigh opposition at these meetings.

The slaughter of bison outside Yellowstone National Park has long been a dark spot on America’s wildlife conservation heritage. The recent changes allowing bison places to roam outside the park are critical steps toward managing bison like other wildlife. However, these efforts could fail if they are not accepted by local communities. The resources Defenders and our colleagues are providing for fencing could go a long way toward increasing tolerance for bison where it is most needed by helping concerned landowners protect their property from potential damage.

“Our goal is to increase tolerance for bison in these important habitat areas,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains associate for Defenders of Wildlife. “Offering this incentive will allow us to engage constructively with landowners who may have concerns with free-roaming bison on their properties.”

To learn more about the program, check out our promotional poster and read our full press release.

See recent coverage in the Billings Gazette and Bozeman Daily Chronicle.