wild buffalo of Yellowstone and Montana are the last genetically
pure remnant of the vast populations that once migrated freely
across the American West. Our vision is to ensure that this
unique herd shall flourish in as much of its natural and historic
range as possible--forever. Our purpose and intent is to protect
and preserve the Yellowstone bison from harm--also forever.
The Yellowstone buffalo are the only living link to the great
herds of millions that once thundered across the plains. Wild
buffalo are considered sacred to the Native American tribes
of the Great Plains whose cultures evolved with them and who
still hold treaty rights to the Yellowstone area. Disturbingly,
the tribes have been excluded from all levels of management
affecting the herd.
Buffalo are a uniquely American icon, a fact made apparent
by the presence of their image on countless Montana highway
signs and license plates, on the insignia of the National
Park Service, the United States Department of Interior, and
on the signs and windows of countless businesses.
While for the rest of the country buffalo are a powerful symbol
of the continent’s wild past, Montana alone is positioned
to benefit from their current and future presence. We are
already rewarded by the presence of buffalo and other native
wildlife as evidenced by the millions of people visiting Yellowstone
each year. These visitors have helped make tourism the fastest
growing economy in Montana. If buffalo were allowed to reinhabit
even a small fraction of their former range, expanded wildlife
viewing opportunities would bring millions of additional tourist
dollars to our state.
Whereas elk, also known to carry brucellosis, bring millions
of dollars to Montana through hunting fees and associated
revenues, similar opportunities are presently lost on the
buffalo, who are only allowed to access a tiny fraction of
available habitat. If buffalo, like elk, were allowed access
to prime Montana habitat, a true fair-chase hunt could be
established that would be a tremendous asset to Montana’s
Montana has a golden opportunity to secure public and private
land habitat for buffalo outside the park and abandon its
antiquated “zero tolerance” policy in favor of
one more consistent with modern risk-management principles.
The best available science does not support the current management
Current bison management actions are not based on the best
available scientific evidence and have resulted in the unnecessary
slaughter of large numbers of bison. Further, they are not
based on an accurate assessment of the risk of brucellosis
transmission from bison to cattle, they rely on inappropriate
tools and techniques designed for use in livestock, and they
ignore the more serious threat of brucellosis transmission
from feed-ground elk to cattle.
A common-sense approach would focus management actions on
buffalo and livestock to protect Montana’s brucellosis-free
status. Readily available solutions such as modifying stocking
dates and building stronger fences would ensure spatial and
temporal separation of bison and cattle. In combination with
mandatory cattle vaccination protocols (enhanced by tax incentives
to offset additional costs) and the development of livestock
herd-management plans to encourage the grazing of “brucellosis-proof”
livestock like steers and non-reproductive cows, such a common
sense approach would protect both Montana’s brucellosis
free status and the last wild herd of native buffalo.
Such an approach would save millions of tax-dollars, alleviate
the negative publicity Montana has received, and greatly benefit
Montana’s number one and number two industries: livestock
Most of these practices have already been implemented in and
near Grand Teton National Park, where buffalo and cattle have
co-mingled without a single incidence of brucellosis transmission
for the past forty-five years.
The goal of eradicating brucellosis from bison and elk in
the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) is untenable until appropriate
technologies are developed to achieve such an objective without
harming the bison and elk populations or the integrity of
the ecosystem in which they exist.
The remaining wild buffalo need lasting protection to preserve
their ecological, genetic, cultural, aesthetic, and spiritual
significance. We envision a new Montana in which wild buffalo
are recognized and managed as native wildlife and treated
as an asset rather than a liability.
killing by the state of Montana could threaten the future
of this national symbol and the biological integrity of the
last wild herd.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbit, 1997