Yellowstone’s Response to Bison Escaping Quarantine Trap Reveals Inconsistencies, Manipulation of Tribes

For Immediate Release:
January 18, 2018

Mike Mease, Buffalo Field Campaign 406-646-0070
Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign 406-646-0070
James Holt, Nez Perce Tribe & BFC Board of Directors, 208-836-5574

Gardiner Basin, Montana: Fifty-two bison have escaped a recently converted quarantine facility inside Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek bison trap. News articles about the escaped buffalo started appearing Tuesday evening.

Even though Yellowstone’s proposed fifty-year quarantine plan has not yet been approved, Yellowstone initiated capture for quarantine beginning in 2016, at their Stephens Creek trap. The first group of 24 buffalo have been in the quarantine pens since March 2016, while the other group of 28 buffalo have been held there since March 2017. All of the female buffalo who had been part of that capture-for-quarantine were shipped to slaughter last year when Yellowstone opened the trap to begin slaughter operations. All of the buffalo who remained in the then-unapproved quarantine facility were bulls. Seven of these bulls have been shipped to slaughter or have died due to human handling.

“I think that this provides proof that we as a Tribe could do a better job at managing these bison than the state [of Montana] and Park Service,” said Fort Peck Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure.

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Interior Secretary Zinke claims that Yellowstone was just “days away” from sending these buffalo — all bulls — to the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. However, none of the news stories that have been released include commentary from the affected Tribes. During a phone conversation this morning, Fort Peck Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure told Buffalo Field Campaign that the Interior Secretary Zinke’s disclosure that “we were within days of actually moving the buffalo" was news to him. Yellowstone contradicts themselves in another quote stating the buffalo were being held for “possible quarantine.” No quarantine plan has yet been approved, however, last year, after promises by state and federal agencies that Fort Peck could quarantine buffalo on their reservation, they built a half million dollar facility. The Montana Department of Livestock and USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service then went back on their word to the Tribes telling them they could not receive buffalo for quarantine because their reservation is outside of Montana's brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area.

During another phone conversation Buffalo Field Campaign had with Tom McDonald, the Division Manager for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes' Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Division, who also is a decision-maker within the Interagency Bison Management Plan, was also unaware of Yellowstone’s claim that these buffalo were about to go to Fort Peck.

"That’s all news to me,” McDonald said. "I didn’t know that they were getting ready, and obviously, Fort Peck didn’t either,” said Tom McDonald, Division Manager for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes’ Fish, Wildlife, Recreation, and Parks Division.

James Holt, Nez Perce Tribal member who also serves on Buffalo Field Campaign’s Board of Directors said, "Buffalo Field Campaign does not support the deviation from adopted protocols by federal officials in the IBMP process. It is the policy of BFC to support treaty tribes and their reserved hunting rights. Based on the statements by the Secretary, we believe it is time for meaningful consultation with treaty tribes regarding this new development in quarantine use at the trap, and the potential impacts to treaty resources. BFC and our supporters also seek clarity on the statements made by the Secretary on the disposition of Yellowstone's Stephens Creek trap as it relates to wild bison. BFC’s primary concern has always been protecting wild, migratory buffalo on the landscape. The destruction of the trap fence only highlights the deadlock inherent in the current IBMP priorities. It is time to embrace a renewed focus on wild bison as our national mammal, while honoring treaty-reserved hunting rights."

Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) is a volunteer-based wild bison advocacy group based in southwest Montana. BFC runs daily field patrols and monitors buffalo migration and documents all actions made against them. BFC is the only group working in the field, the courts, and policy arena, every day, on behalf of the country’s last wild migratory buffalo, who is also our National Mammal. For more information visit