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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Genetic Diversity of the Yellowstone Bison
"The so-called random shooting at the Montana borders is actually eliminating or depleting entire maternal lineages, therefore this action will cause an irreversible crippling of the gene pool. Continued removal of genetic lineages will change the genetic makeup of the herd, thus it will not represent the animal of 1910 or earlier. It would be a travesty to have people look back and say we were 'idiots' for not understanding the gene pool."

"Bison have developed a natural resistance genetically as long as they have enough to eat, limited stress and are not consumed by other disease. There is no magic bullet in wildlife disease, therefore management is important. Vaccines are one management tool and one component, but genetic structure is necessary for future management. Every animal which is removed from the breeding population can no longer contribute to the genetic variability of the herd."

Dr. Joe Templeton, Texas A& M University, Dept. of Veterinary Pathobiology, Remarks made to the GYIBC May 21, 1998.

The Yellowstone bison population currently exists as an isolated "metapopulation." This is what population geneticists call a large population which consists of several smaller groups called "subpopulations" which interact with each other to some degree. Each subpopulation within the metapopulation can have itís own distinctive genetic structure which distinguishes it from the others. If individuals remain in their own respective subpopulation and do not mate with outside individuals, certain genes within the subpopulation become fixed. In other words there is a loss of alternative genes through random mating and selection. This eventually leads to a loss of genetic variation in the subpopulation. If there is migration and mating of individuals at a moderate rate between the subpopulations, then genetic variation can be maintained throughout the entire metapopulation.

Genetic variation is critical to the long term survival and evolutionary potential for any species or population. It can become decreased through isolation, inbreeding, and strong selective pressures such as environmental changes, diseases, or extensive mortality. Loss of genetic variabilty removes genes from the population that could enable certain individuals to survive a major event, reproduce, and pass on their genetic material to the next generation. Low genetic variability within an individual or population greatly reduces the ability to respond to a major disease event or adapt to changing environmental conditions. Ultimately this will drive them into an extinction vortex from which they might not recover. This has already occurred in many species who have disappeared from the globe.

The current "clear cut" style of removing bison from the Gardiner area poses a grave risk to the genetic integrity of the entire Yellowstone bison herd for a number of reasons. The really tragic part of this is that the subpopulation (northern herd) was nearly wiped out in 96/97. The current herd probably consists of remnant individuals and migrants from other adjacent subpopulations. Removal of a large number of individuals from only one subpopulation within a single region poses the risk of permanent loss of entire lineages, which could be irreplaceable.

If population control were truly necessary, then perhaps a scattered, random removal of individuals would be more conducive to maintaining genetic diversity. However, the carrying capacity for bison in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem has not been accurately established.

Therefore the current population cap of 3000 is rather arbitrary and not representative of what the ecosystem can actually support. If the efficiency of bison grazing patterns and their remarkable ability to extract the most nutrition from the lowest quality forage is considered in conjunction with potential availability of public lands, this number should be much higher.

The cumulative effects of yearly removals of entire large groups of bison within an isolated population will certainly result in a steady erosion of the genetic integrity within this herd. This would be a national tragedy and will ultimately result in the demise of this valuable herd!

We must urge our public officials to discontinue the slaughter of Yellowstoneís bison in this manner. We cannot allow another repeat of the winter nightmare of 1996/97. It is key to the survival of this herd for future generations that this current removal operation is immediately put to an end. Prevention of any further herd reductions will ultimately contribute to the conservation of this herd and augment global biodiversity.

See News Article 4/24/02- Substantial portion of remaining 'pure' bison in Yellowstone
By SCOTT McMILLION Chronicle Staff Writer

Genetically, Bison Don't Measure Up to Frontier Ancestors- April 2002 By MARK DERR (NYT) ABSTRACT - Genetic study led by Texas A&M geneticist Dr James Derr finds that more than 90 percent of private bison and many animals in publicly owned herds are actually bison-cow hybrids; finding reduces pool of pure bison available for preserving species to fewer than 15,000 animals (Word Document, 4 pages)

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