2020 05 18 01 001 on the buffalo trail

Photo by Stephany Seay, BFC.

Like most folks, quarantine has dominated my daily life. I must admit I minimized what I thought the impacts of the Coronavirus would be. Then my small community was hit with the virus, bringing hardship and uncertainty close to home. I have seen the impacts of the virus on families separated from each other, as children and elders suffered the sickness’ affects. Needless to say, my family and I have been doing our part by staying home. I remain anxious and empathetic for those families that have loved ones isolated with the sickness. In the face of these hardships humans are showing great resilience, and we will continue to overcome.

As I discuss how things are going with folks in my community, they seem to be riding this out in much the same way as my family. The unifying theme for everyone I had spoken to, is they all have some level of cabin fever. America, like my hometown, seems to be feeling cooped up. Whether folks want to continue with the “Stay at Home” orders or not, we’re all bursting at the seams to get back to work, freely roam about the countryside, or go to our favorite restaurant. Americans don’t seem to appreciate the notion of being quarantined for very long, not by the threat of a powerful sickness or the rule of law. I think our nation’s only continuously-wild herd of bison would agree.

2020 05 18 01 002 on the buffalo trail

Photo by Stephany Seay, BFC.

Yellowstone bison have been living under quarantine and mismanaged so extensively that the Central herd has experienced an ominous decline in population numbers. The resilience of bison to withstand disease, drought, or other environmental impacts is diminishing under state and federal management. The life of Yellowstone bison is a life of quarantine. For brief moments during winter and spring most of the bison are allowed beyond Yellowstone National Park boundaries. Inevitably they are forced into the park or killed. A few months in quarantine has America frayed at the edges. For decades Yellowstone bison have faced this reality. Some Americans are exercising their power to influence life under quarantine. I hope more Americans exercise that power to improve the dismal existence forced upon our National Mammal.

Yellowstone bison management is built on the premise that bison might transfer brucellosis to cattle introduced into the bison’s range. But this theory is without any documented evidence of buffalo transmitting brucellosis to the cattle who gave it to them over a century ago. The passage of time has allowed the buffalo to adapt to this exotic disease and develop herd immunity. State and federal manager’s impetus to control the bacteria falls solely upon the lives of immune bison. To date, thousands of migratory bison have been killed to fit within the small confines of Yellowstone National Park. State and federal agencies continue to use quarantine, hazing from habitat, and capture for slaughter to eliminate approximately 1/5 of the entire population of bison annually. Elk in the region, on the other hand, have transmitted brucellosis to cattle and are allowed to roam free. Bison have found a way to overcome brucellosis, but alone, they cannot change the minds of state and federal managers driving the Interagency Bison Management Plan. We must end the mismanagement of Yellowstone bison by placing the impetus of managing brucellosis on the cattle where a vaccine exists but goes unused.


2020 05 18 01 003 on the buffalo trail

Photo by Stephany Seay, BFC.

Yellowstone bison management must reflect the honor worthy of its designation as America’s National Mammal. It is time for our treasured wildlife to be allowed to roam free. There is a wide swath of federal lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park that represents an ecosystem ripe for the return of wild bison. We can begin by allowing bison access, once again, to land that has always been theirs. Americans have the power to stand for Yellowstone bison and we can help them do so. Thank you for standing with us, and sharing our unified voice.

For the Buffalo,
James Holt, Sr.
Executive Director, Buffalo Field Campaign

“The Earth and I are of One Mind.”- Chief Joseph, Nez Perce