buffalo field campaign yellowstone bison slaughter Buffalo Field Campaign
West Yellowstone, Montana
Working in the field every day to stop the
slaughter of Yellowstone's wild free roaming buffalo

Total Yellowstone
Buffalo Killed
Since 1985
(past counts)

Yellowstone Bison Slaughter
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Overpopulation of Wild Bison Fact Sheet-
Yellowstone National Park Buffalo- Are there too many?

Wild buffalo in America once numbered 30 to 60 million, ranging from Virginia to Alaska and all points in between. Today the only buffalo to have continuously occupied their native range number approximately 4,000 and are being forced to live inside the inadequate confines of Yellowstone National Park. Year after year, during their annual migration, buffalo are repeatedly hazed, captured, and sent to slaughter as a result of an agreement between federal and state agencies that places the economic interest of Montana’s livestock industry above the welfare of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Buffalo are migratory animals, and like other wildlife they migrate to lower elevations every winter and spring for improved forage. This natural migration leads them across the Park boundary into Gallatin National Forest. In the early 1900’s, scientists and legislators realized that Yellowstone National Park did not reflect the natural boundaries of the ecosystem (they forgot to include winter habitat), and therefore didn’t meet the needs of wildlife. Hence, in 1926, Gallatin National Forest was established to provide winter habitat. Unfortunately, Gallatin National Forest is located within Montana’s borders, and at the behest of Montana’s livestock industry the state maintains a zero-tolerance policy for wild buffalo.

Strangely, given the historic population of the buffalo, it is frequently stated that 4,000 buffalo is too many. It is alleged that the number exceeds the ecological carrying capacity of Yellowstone’s habitat, thereby justifying hundreds being put to death every year.

What is the carrying capacity for Yellowstone National Park relative to buffalo?
There is no simple carrying capacity figure for any wildlife species, and the number is in constant flux. The truth is, we need to think outside the box; Yellowstone National Park is drawn like a box, and it neither reflects the ecosystem nor the needs of the creatures that are part of that ecosystem.

The tremendous influence natural variations have on sustainable population levels must be taken into account when contemplating carrying capacity. Weather patterns such as wet seasons, times of drought, harsh winters or milder winters impact populations. Predator-prey relationships also alter the picture. Carrying capacity is wrongly being considered only for the Park, within a political boundary invisible to wildlife, rather than being extended to adjacent public lands (i.e. Gallatin National Forest) from which buffalo are systematically excluded.

A figure of 3,000 buffalo, cited in the Interagency Bison Management Plan, is frequently touted as a carrying capacity. It is not. Rather than being based on available habitat or sound science, this figure is politically derived.

A National Academy of Sciences study conducted in 1998 determined that “even at 3,500 bison, little or no evidence exists to indicate that forage quantity or quality is inadequate.” The report goes on to say that even if the buffalo population has enough forage to maintain itself above 3,000 animals, natural weather factors that prevent buffalo from accessing that forage, such as deep snow, will cause them to migrate to lower elevations, and out of the Park.

The 3,000 buffalo constraint is simply being used to make it more convenient for buffalo to be managed, at the expense of the wild nature and genetic integrity of America’s last wild and unfenced herd. Further, the Park Service has a clear statutory mandate for noninterventionist wildlife management. In other words, natural factors are intended to regulate the size, distribution, movement patterns, and habitat use patterns of wildlife within our parks.

What we do know for certain is that, due to yearly killing 3,725 buffalo have been slaughtered in the past fifteen years. We haven’t allowed natural forces relative to buffalo to take hold in and around Yellowstone. When buffalo leave the Park and enter Montana, Department of Livestock officials take charge. Instead of wildlife biologists, brand inspectors control wild buffalo, and biologists don’t have a chance to evaluate natural population possibilities.
The overpopulation argument is made for buffalo, elk, and other ungulates. The park is said to be overgrazed, yet for at least the past century, there’s arguably been no better place in the United States to witness wildlife than Yellowstone. It is now, and for decades has been, America’s wildlife Serengeti. The notion that the Park is overpopulated and the buffalo population unsustainable is simply not true.

Montana has a grand opportunity that would be the envy of the entire country; Instead of driving a policy to kill America’s last wild buffalo for reasons that have little to do with disease or population control, Montana could be the only state to boast a truly wild, free-roaming herd of buffalo. Buffalo are the icon of the West, and Montana should consider celebrating them as its national mammal. Montana can end the buffalo slaughter that began in the 19th century once and for all. Montana has the wisdom and national support to make it happen.

Spatial Aspects of Bison Density Dependence in Yellowstone National Park- October 2000 This paper capitalizes on a unique opportunity provided by the record of the bison population of Yellowstone National Park (YNP). This population has been intensely monitored for almost four decades. There does not appear to be another comparable data set in existence for a very large highly gregarious herbivore (G. Caughley pers. comm. to MM). This population has a long historical record with some information dating back to 1860 (Meagher 1970, 1973). Further, the YNP bison herds have been the subject of long-term detailed and continuous ecological study since 1963. (PDF- 133 pages, 2.6MB)

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