IBMP Successes & Failures
In the decades since the IBMP was created, the bison population has ranged between 2,400 and 5,500 animals (the IBMP calls for a target population of 3,000 animals). There have been no cases of bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle, in part due to efforts by federal and state agencies to maintain separation between these animals. The state of Montana now allows bison to occupy some habitat adjacent to the park that was previously off-limits.
However, lack of tolerance for wild bison in most areas outside Yellowstone continues to limit the restoration of this iconic species. Large parts of their historic winter ranges are no longer available due to human development, and because states only allow limited numbers of bison in areas near the park. Meanwhile, bison are so successful at reproducing and surviving that there’s a continued need to reduce numbers to prevent overgrazing in Yellowstone and avoid conflict when bison leave the park in search of food.
Hunting outside the park has never been able to control the bison population the way it does for species like elk and mule deer. Since state and federal laws prevent the shipment of live bison anywhere other than research or meat-processing facilities, capture and shipment to slaughter remains the only way for IBMP members to reduce the population.
A Future for Bison
Many people don't like the fact that animals from a national park are sent to slaughter. We don't like it either. We’d like to see more tolerance for migrating bison on public lands in surrounding states; similar to deer, elk, and other ungulates. The park isn’t big enough to let bison numbers increase without more available habitat to sustain them, but we cannot force adjacent states to tolerate more migrating bison.
We would like to send some bison to quarantine so that animals that repeatedly test negative for brucellosis can be used to start conservation herds elsewhere. However, the state of Montana has opposed a proposal to conduct quarantine on the Fort Peck Reservation, and state laws continue to prohibit the shipment of live bison anywhere other than meat processing or research facilities.
We would like hunting outside the park to become a more successful management tool, as it is for other species. For this to happen, bison need to be allowed to disperse more widely and pioneer new areas away from Yellowstone. This would entail expanding tolerance for bison in Montana, reducing hunter concentrations along the park boundary, and helping local communities learn to live with bison.
The state of Montana and some Native American tribes have proposed hunting bison within Yellowstone National Park. However, the Lacey Act of 1894 prohibits hunting and the possession or removal of wildlife from the park, as well as frightening or driving wildlife from the park for hunting or other reasons. In addition, park managers oppose hunting in the park because it would affect the behavior of many different animals and drastically change the experiences of visitors.
What would you like to see? Get to know all the people and agencies for whom this issue is important, including state legislators, congressional representatives, and the members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. We’ll need to work together to find a future that includes wild bison.