The protection and recovery of bison in Yellowstone is one of the great triumphs of American conservation. In 1902, there were only about two dozen bison left in Yellowstone after market hunting and poaching. The next hundred years chronicled the slow, but determined efforts of dedicated people to bring this species back from the brink of extinction. The National Park Service is very proud of its role in restoring this iconic species. So, if bison management in Yellowstone has been such a success, why is there controversy?
Here are the top 5 things you should know about bison management today:
- Yellowstone's bison are special. The park's bison are different than other plains populations found throughout the west. This population has thousands of individuals that exhibit wild behavior like their ancient ancestors. They are exposed to predators, severe environmental conditions, and show no evidence of any historic interbreeding with cattle. A symbol of wild America, the Yellowstone bison are an essential part of a complex ecosystem that is much larger than the national park.
- The park isn't in this alone. The park's goal is to maintain a viable, wild, migratory population of bison. This simple goal is actually quite complicated and involves several federal and state agencies as well as tribes. Why? Because bison are a migratory species and they move across a vast landscape. When they are inside Yellowstone National Park, they are managed as wildlife by the National Park Service, but when they migrate outside the park during the winter, management shifts to the surrounding states, which only have limited tolerance for bison, especially ones that may test positive for the disease brucellosis. The park and seven other partners, including tribes, implement the current Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). The plan was approved in 2000 by the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture and the Montana governor, under the terms of a court mediated settlement.
- The population is being reduced in 2015. About 4,900 bison were counted in the park last summer. The 2015 IBMP annual operating plan calls for the removal of 800 to 900 bison to move toward the agreed upon population guideline of 3,000 bison. This reduction is a difficult action and one that is not taken lightly by the park and its employees.
- Doing nothing is not an option. Numerous organizations have criticized the NPS and its IBMP partners for various management actions, while offering no realistic alternatives that meet the current IBMP management objectives, and other laws and policies. We encourage you to read more about bison conservation and management on this website (a good place to start is our frequently asked questions) or visit www.ibmp.info.
- It's time to craft a new bison management plan. The park and the state of Montana have begun working together to update the current bison management plan (IBMP). The park believes that we've outgrown the 14-year-old plan -- new science is available regarding general biology and disease prevalence, and public opinion has shifted toward more tolerance for bison in Montana. We need a new paradigm that accommodates larger herd sizes and allows bison to move more freely within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We look forward to engaging the public in this process. There will be numerous opportunities for you to make your voice heard as the planning process proceeds.