Bison and calf, © Diana LeVasseur

What Montana Isn’t Saying: Why Wild Bison Aren’t Welcome in the State

No one better captured Montana’s quintessential spirit at the close of the frontier period than American painter and writer, Charles Marion Russell. “Charlie” Russell’s depictions of life on the range, as exemplified in “Judith Basin Roundup” helped romanticize and mythologize the “cowboy roundup” in American culture.

Bison, © Jonathan Proctor/DefendersSadly, today a wildlife “roundup” is taking place in the Gardiner Basin north of Yellowstone National Park, and there is nothing sentimental about it.

Yellowstone’s roaming wild bison, as iconic to western America as any portrait painted by Russell, are being driven into chutes and pens to be later trucked to slaughter houses. This tragic state of affairs is largely to blame on Montana’s Department of Livestock (DOL), which clings to an outdated view of livestock management not embraced by many progressive ranchers. The result of appealing to the base fears of some livestock grazers and stirring controversy has led to decades of stalemate over the fate of bison that leave the narrow confines of the Park, and seemingly unending conflict.

In its efforts to promote the interests of the less progressive wing of its industry, the DOL continues to promote a “bison as livestock” management model, complete with the obligatory roundup and handling of these wild animals… a “solution” devised to solve a problem defined mostly by the still unfounded fear that bison will spread a disease called brucellosis to cattle, and that this will devastate the cattle industry in Montana as we know it.

Bison, © Annie Griffiths Belt

The DOL continues to perpetuate this myth and the overblown reactionary response with the intention of frightening politicians and the public, and to pressure the National Park Service and others to conform to its “bison as livestock” management model. Indeed, DOL wants the public and agency officials to believe that bison leaving Yellowstone National Park in winter – which they do to naturally avoid the deep snows of the Park – are a threat to the livestock industry through potential transmission of brucellosis to livestock, though there is no documented case of this occurring.

In truth, some traditionalists in the livestock industry have had little tolerance for any wildlife competition with cattle…and the DOL’s efforts to do whatever it takes to keep wild bison out of the state seem to align with that group.

But apart from their overzealous and misplaced fear of bison, there is no rational need for this slaughter, and a lot of Montana landowners know it. Defenders believes it is long past time to stop shipping bison to slaughter; there are much better ways to manage Montana’s bison population and the valuable genetics of the Yellowstone herd. Working with several local coalition members, Defenders has pioneered practical coexistence solutions with landowners around Yellowstone National Park that have proven effective in increasing social tolerance for the species. This coalition gives landowners near Yellowstone National Park financial and technical assistance to keep roaming bison out of gardens, landscaping, yards or livestock pastures. Yellowstone Bison, © Joseph FarrisThis program has been incredibly successful in helping local communities adapt to roaming bison on the landscape. Because of the success of the Yellowstone program, eight more projects are already lined up for completion this year, with more likely to come.

As Charlie Russell himself wrote to a friend in 1926,

“.. the west… owes much to the humped back beef in the sketch above (his sketch of a bison). The Rocky Mountains would have been hard to reach without him….he fed the explorer…the great fur trade wagon tranes (sic) felt safe when they reached his range….he fed the men that layed (sic) the first ties across the great wes ….the nickel weares (sic) his picture….dam small money for so much meat….he was one of nature’s biggest (sic) gifts and this country owes him thanks…..”

Let’s give the bison the respect and space they need. Defenders is calling on Governor Steve Bullock to use his authority to move forward a process to expand the tolerance zone outside the Park and to halt this slaughter. As of last week, more than 56,000 Defenders members contacted Governor Bullock requesting that he put an immediate stop to these killings. Progressive livestock managers recognize the value of wildlife. Click here to urge Governor Bullock to do the same, and to take a leadership role in finally resolving the Yellowstone bison issue!

— Steve Forrest, Rockies & Plains Senior Representative  


21 Responses to “What Montana Isn’t Saying: Why Wild Bison Aren’t Welcome in the State”

  1. George Wuerthner

    I think the elephant in the room that was not mentioned above is that the livestock industry fears the expansion of wild bison on other BLM, Forest Service and state lands in the West. And since cattle and bison have almost 100% dietary overlap, any increase in wild bison outside of the national parks will directly affect public lands grazing allotments–and the distribution of forage on those lands. They are worried that the public would prefer to see bison herds rather than privately owned livestock grazing on its public lands–hence the livestock industry continues to work towards bottling up wild bison in parks.

  2. Cindy

    We have park rangers and I hope they do their job to protect the bison and enforce the law to highest extent of the law.
    When we will we ever learn that killing animals for sport or greed is wrong and we need to admit the wrong and change our stupidity.

  3. Judy Flanagan

    Crimes against the bison continue from the 1700’s. Mankind will never learn.

  4. Joan

    They are as much part of the United States has the bald eagle. I getting angry about our wildlife being killed for no reason. Why don’t go after criminals instead of helpness creatures. Remember 9-11 animals did not destroy the World Trade Center man did.

  5. Tim Cammers

    I am sick and tired of the non stop destruction toward our wildlife. It was bad enough when white man came though here he hunted them to almost extinction. Now he is doing it again! I have your backs and with help you take the fight to capital hill and tell these bastards off and give that you do this or else speech I always give people I don’t like!

  6. Mary

    Compassion and righteousness of these fated bison should not be ruled by the lust of greed that arises and challenges. With and thru good educational decisions and practices, and morally for the earth to survive as it should, there would be no reason to slaughter these American Icons just for the sake to sing, ” Another One Bites the Dust…….”

  7. Mary

    Ranchers obviously believe that any and all public lands “belong” to them for their livelihoods. ANY other creatures (bison, wolves) supposedly have NO rights according to them. We ARE the voice for the creatures that deserve to exist and live! The ranchers will use ANY excuse like the “potential transmission of brucellosis” to justify their slaughter of wildlife. We all know that bison were driven to the brink of extinction 19th century. After all the recovery efforts to save the species, are we REALLY going to stand by and watch history repeat itself? I HOPE not.

  8. Domenica

    The remaining Bison in North America have all our european sympathy. And thank you all for speaking out to defend, protect and respect them!

  9. James Walker

    Bison, wild horses, burros and wolves should have first right to public lands. Private ranchers are for profit companies and do not need to be subsidized at the expense of native species .

  10. tom van lear

    Where God is welcome there is no injustice. There are some that will not let Jesus in because it would make them unable to kill. In the end we all go through our own Judgement Day, alone. There is no belief that can change this from happening. When life is hunted it has no option but go wild. Wildlife is really an opinion man has for life it can not control. It can not control what it is not willing to live with. People that hate want the public land to be a buffer zone to protect their greed. Public lane becomes a natural fence. I say God created everything to control itself. Man with the devil’s help just messed thing up. God bless.

  11. Anne Lambert

    The wanton destruction of wildlife to “protect” us from them is outmoded and unthinking. We desperately need these animals to balance our environment. Science has proven it. We need to get states and all federal agencies on the same page, protecting these animals. It is our future we are destroying as well as theirs. How long will it take to educate the people who SHOULD know better?

  12. Krystal

    You would think people will learn from the past unfortunately humans will always repeat history if no one confronts the madness. we as a nation need to allow the bison their original habitat. The Great Plains have not stable since the extraction of the bison.

  13. Cyndy Warnier

    I’d like to hear from a rancher about this horrible destruction. What can they possibly say that warrants this kind of killing?

  14. Vicki Isern

    Here is a video about how the Wolves sustain ALL wildlife- aminal and plant and the rivers. This includes the deer and Bison. To me this is an eye opener of how mother nature will care for this planet WITHOUT humans. The bible says that this earth and all of its things was a gift to us humans. Our job is to care for this figt, this planet that is our home. if we destory everything on this planet, the human will die.

  15. neil S

    Just like Idaho, politicians could care less about animals

  16. karen

    when europeans invaded this country there were millions of buffalo and bison! abundance of all creatures of all species! many people are greedy and live for money and total dominance of all other species, they are sick and need healing, we that can still understand that all life is connected need to create positive change thru peaceful action and continual petition (firing some people would also help) we must save the other species that share our planet.



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