08:53 PM

Governor Bullock’s Plan to Break the Gridlock on Montana’s Bison Management

BOZEMAN. Mont. – On Wednesday Governor Bullock announced a proposal that could end a decades-long stalemate over how to manage bison in Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s largest population of genetically pure and wild bison. The Governor's proposal would allow bison to roam year-round in some areas outside the Park, but only when the total population is below 3,500. The Governor’s proposal will be open to public comment for 30 days.

Steve Forrest, Senior Representative, Rockies and Plains for Defenders of Wildlife issued the following statement:

“Change for Montana’s bison is long overdue. By breaking the gridlock created by the Montana Board of Livestock and moving forward with a plan, Governor Bullock clearly hears the voices of Montanans who want solutions to this decades-long conflict. However, tying greater roaming room for bison to an arbitrarily low bison population number is not in line with best wildlife management, nor would it end the controversial and wasteful shipment to slaughter; in fact, it could reinforce it. We look forward to helping craft a final plan that fully resolves the conflict and treats Yellowstone bison like other wildlife.”

Background: Fewer than 1,000 plains bison escaped the uncontrolled killing spree that led to the species’ near extinction in the late 1800s. Of these, most were captured and held on private ranches and managed as livestock; fewer than 25 remained in the wild, deep in Yellowstone National Park. Today, the overall Yellowstone population is about 4,900 which remain wild within the refuge of the park. Yet, during harsh winter months when these bison seek grazing grounds outside the Park, they fall victim to outdated policies which enable state officials to force them back into the park and/or ship them to slaughter. In the first few months of 2014, “shipment to slaughter” led to the unnecessary killing of hundreds of wild Yellowstone bison. Unless other options are made available, wildlife managers propose to kill 900 more bison in the upcoming winter to achieve their future population goal of 3,500. This 2014 killing program would be the largest slaughter in seven years.

Native American tribes, conservation non-profits and thousands of Montana’s citizens support a proposal to expand the zone around Yellowstone where bison are allowed to roam as wildlife. In 2014, the state of Montana received over 100,000 comments on the proposal to give bison additional room to roam outside the park. However, in May, Montana Board of Livestock (BOL) voted unanimously to reject a joint proposal put forth by Montana’s Department of Livestock and Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to expand the tolerance zone.

Defenders advocates for comprehensive reform for bison management in Yellowstone. To conserve the genetics of this population, it is necessary that the bison are permitted to roam on lands west and north of the park. Defenders also supports initiatives to relocate disease-free wild Yellowstone bison on tribal lands throughout Montana.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @defendersnews.