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Yellowstone Bison Population Healthy; Montana Priming For Hunts

Yellowstone Bison in Winter; 'GGeter' via Flickr

Yellowstone Bison in Winter; 'GGeter' via Flickr

The bison herd in Yellowstone National Park is doing quite well, thank you very much. According to the summer count, there are nearly 5,000 bison in the park. Up in Montana, meanwhile, state officials are already planning this winter's bison hunt just north of Yellowstone.

I wonder how many folks will remember the bear hunt in Katmai National Preserve when the bison hunt is rolled out. While the Katmai hunt was akin to shooting bears in a zoo, the bison hunts just outside Yellowstone are like shooting cows in a pasture.

Montana officials just just selected 38 folks to participate in the bison hunts if the woolly animals leave Yellowstone between mid-November and mid-February.

In Yellowstone, officials say the estimated bison population of 4,700 animals is "within the historical rates of the herd’s annual population increase during the summer." That summer tally falls well below the park's peak of 4,900 bison recorded in the summer of 2005.

The summer population estimate is used to inform adaptive management strategies under the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), say Yellowstone officials. Specific management actions may be modified based on expected late winter population levels as corroborated by the summer population estimate.

The IBMP is a cooperative plan designed to protect Montana’s brucellosis-free status while allowing for the conservation of a viable, wild bison population. Protecting Montana’s brucellosis-free status requires keeping bison from mixing with cattle grazing on land outside the park.

Of course, an interesting point is that, if memory serves me correctly, there never has been a documented instance of bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock.


Yellowstone buffalo, like elk, are probably at numbers well beyond their historic numbers within Yellowstone. The problem is that bison have not been allowed to expand their range. I fear for the buffalo this winter caught in the usual pissing match among humans and their proprietary claims.

FYI, your article is in error. The NPS has claimed that there are 4,700 bison after the summer count (just below the 4,900 record). After last summer, the count was 3,900. The NPS news release is at

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Thanks for pointing out the error, Jim. That's what happens when you're trying to get a post up and not miss your flight connection.

"Flight connection?" Don't jets cause global warming?
But I guess you don't fly in your own private jet like Algore. lol....

Thanks for the info on what sounds like a great hunting opportunity. Bison meat is good meat, low in fat.
Here's my rifle:
What do y'all carry?

Gunner Jack: Ever hear of a Polish rifle? The barrel is bent towards the hunter...use it on this hunt. Just joking! Seriously, in all candor, this a issue where the forestry range managers should work in dire effort to expand the rangeland for the buffalo...beautiful animal! The question is, how do we appease and convince the Montana rhinestone cowboys to give up some of there prime rangeland to enhance the health of the buffalo. Who came first...cowboy or buffalo? This is nothing more then a turkey shoot for the fabulous 38. Enjoy the easy pickens!

Of all meat sources, buffalo is by far the healthiest. Per gram, or ounce for the metrically challenged, it ranks as lowest in fat, highest in protein and is very tasty. But I'll continue to obtain mine as I have for years, from private buffalo farms well beyond the borders of the park service, thank you very much. They're still free-range animals on the farm, and require such treatment to maintain their limited content of fat. Good genetics don't hurt either, which is why cattle can't compare.

It's fairly simple: since we limited their range and removed the top predators (Indians, mostly, but also grizzlies and wolves) the number of Yellowstone bison will exceed the cold-season capacity of their range unless some are removed. As the local wolves recover they should make some impact, but wolves are really a little small to take full-grown buffalo. Deer and elk are more their size.

At no time in the last 15,000 years or more have the bison in that area not been hunted, killed and eaten by human beings. We're top predators too; it's What We Do. Before human beings arrived, there were lions and sabertooth; the paleo-Indians probably put paid to them by killing off their preferred prey species.

So unless you'd like to introduce and acclimatize Siberian tigers (which would be a cool idea, actually), it's human-as-predators or starvation for the surplus bison.


Or, we also increase the range and not put arbitrary political boundaries (park borders, land rights, etc.) in their way. Human predation was no doubt a control on bison populations (especially, before large Euroamerican settlement in the 17th century killed off many indigenous peoples - which led to a rapid increase in bison numbers over the following two centuries before the mass slaughters of the 19th century). Yet, it wasn't human predation aided by arbitrary boundaries rationalized by an anthropocentric view of the world. Remove the boundaries, allow bison range to expand, and then humans and buffalo might be able to live out some sort of predator v. prey relationship.

Buffalo were always a marginal part of the Yellowstone ecosystem; the growth of numbers of buffalo in Yellowstone and the subsequent years of slaughter and regeneration to higher and higher number (before another harvest) tell me that the rationale driving the 19th century view has not changed and that the assault on buffalo and the land continues. They need to be able to expand their range outside of Yellowstone. Let's hope that the sale of the Mumms land outside of W. Yellowstone to people who are now wanting the land to be a haven for the bison (and are trying to forbid the state government from bison control measures there - though the state insists on the right; quite the twist on the property rights debate, eh?) are able to allow the buffalo to have another foothold.

Radical views like the ones I'm putting forward help explain why the Montana Department of Livestock goes after bison; they recognize that an expanded range threatens the livestock industry if not now, over time. And, to that, I say good riddance. That is another imposition on land and animals that goes well beyond the human desire to eat, even to eat meat. But, that's for another time.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

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