10:22 PM

Governor’s plan for Yellowstone bison management breaks gridlock


December 23, 2015

Contact: Melanie Gade: mgade@defenders.org ; 202-772-0288

Governor’s Plan for Yellowstone Bison Management Breaks Gridlock



BOZEMAN. Mont. –This week, Governor Bullock announced plans to move ahead with a proposal to expand year round habitat available to foraging bison directly outside Yellowstone National Park, breaking decades of stalemate on the issue.



Montana policies previously allowed little tolerance for Yellowstone bison that wander outside park boundaries in search of grazing grounds. State and federal officials hazed them back into the park and/or shipped them to slaughter. Attempts to change Yellowstone bison management have historically been rejected by the Montana Board of Livestock (BOL) which insists on managing bison like livestock instead of as a native wildlife species. This history of “no action” from Montana BOL on requests to modify existing policy led Governor Bullock in October to announce his intent to write his own proposal. 



Governor Bullock’s proposal, announced earlier this week, will give bison an additional 400 square miles of year-round habitat outside the park, but still sets seasonal population limits for bison allowed west of the park.



poll conducted in January, 2015 showed that 76% of Montanans want to see wild bison restored to public lands.



Nancy Gloman, Defenders of Wildlife’s vice president of field conservation, issued the following statement:



“Governor Bullock seized a great opportunity to reform Yellowstone bison management and chart a new course for bison conservation in Montana. The vast majority of Montanans support restoring wild bison to public lands. Wild bison are a key part of our western heritage and Governor Bullock’s plan to allow wild bison access to additional public land outside Yellowstone is essential to further bison restoration efforts. We look forward to working with wildlife officials and local residents to ensure this new policy is a success.”



Background: Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Yellowstone bison are exceptional because they comprise the nation’s largest wild bison population and are among the few bison herds that have not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle. Their survival is critical to the restoration of the species.



Since the mid-1990s, Montana’s BOL has insisted upon a now discredited strategy that extermination of wild bison will reduce the spread of the bacterial disease brucellosis to livestock. However, every single case of brucellosis transmission from wildlife to cattle in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho over the past several years has been traced to elk, not bison. Despite these findings, BOL has been unwilling to modify its management of bison outside Yellowstone. Last year the Montana BOL voted unanimously to reject a joint proposal put forth by its own Department of Livestock and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to expand year round habitat for bison outside the park. Because the expansion issue was not resolved, over 700 bison were shipped to needless slaughter during the winter of 2014-2015. And, officials have already announced plans to cull approximately 1,000 bison this winter. Governor Bullock’s proposal will reduce Montana’s reliance on shipment to slaughter but won’t eliminate the practice completely.



Defenders of Wildlife and our conservation partners are working with local landowners outside of Yellowstone to prevent conflicts with roaming bison in the proposed expanded tolerance zone. Enhanced fencing around trees and shrubs, gardens or backyards has proven effective in addressing local landowner concerns, while simultaneously giving Yellowstone bison the room they need to roam. This program provides up to half the cost of fencing to exclude bison from private property areas of concern, up to $1,000 per landowner.






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.