Bigotry Against Bison in Montana

Divided public comment starts rescheduled bison meeting

by LAURA LUNDQUIST, Chronicle Staff Writer The Bozeman Daily Chronicle | 0 Comments

BILLINGS – The group charged with exploring the possibility of a free-roaming bison herd in Montana has hard work ahead, according to many eastern Montana ranchers attending a Fish, Wildlife & Parks meeting.

“This is a pipe dream of somebody’s,” said Greg Oxarart of the South Phillips County Grazing District. “You as a panel — do you want bison in your backyard? Not many people do. I hope you take that into consideration. You have a tough job ahead of you.”

Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

FWP Director Jeff Hagener created the group to brainstorm where and how a free-roaming bison herd could be created in Montana.

Several of the 50 people in the audience carried signs stating “No free-roaming bison” and wore buttons bearing red X’s over a bison. Most were from Phillips and Valley counties, which contain the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and the AmericanDSC_0128 Prairie Reserve.

Some had attended the first meeting of the discussion group in Lewistown in September. That meeting produced a list of guiding principles for any future plan, including respecting private property rights and managing bison as “wildlife” through a FWP management plan.

The group was scheduled to have its second meeting in Lewistown in April. But after receiving a number of heated emails and phone calls, Hagener canceled the Lewistown meeting at the last minute.

Some people were concerned by a series of events involving Yellowstone bison, including a court ruling that bison in quarantine remain wildlife, but a main complaint was that no time had been scheduled during the meeting for public comment.

On Monday, Hagener said no comment had been scheduled because the informal group was created for discussion and would not make any decisions. He also emphasized that the group had nothing to do with the management of Yellowstone bison.

“We are allowing public comment because a lot of the members of the group thought it was appropriate to have that,’” Hagener said. “Hopefully, we’ll come to a result that’s gone through a process with a lot of public opportunity, and we’ve allowed the public to be involved all the way along.”

Facilitator Ginny Tribe opened the public comment session with the reminder that any resulting plan would have a “no action” alternative where the state would not create a free-roaming herd.

“This group has already agreed on some of these principles so keep that in mind when you make your comments,” Tribe said.

Even so, comment ranged from vehement opposition to any bison to a proposal of the exact location on the CMR Wildlife Refuge where FWP should put 1,200 bison.

Dyrck Van Hyning displayed maps of the Southerland Bay region along the northern shore of the Fort Peck Reservoir in the CMR Refuge and said the 33,000 acres could house up to 1,200 bison, based upon the Bureau of Land Management’s grazing guide of 24 acres per cow.

“There’s no private land. There’s natural boundaries. This would be a good place for a pilot project that could start small,” Van Hyning said.

A Department of the Interior report on U.S. bison herds, released a few weeks ago, named the CMR Refuge as a good site for the transplant of bison but categorized future management as highly complex because of the resistance from nearby ranchers.

Hagener said the DOI would not move to put bison on the CMR Refuge without coordinating with the state of Montana.

That assurance didn’t assuage Phillips County ranchers, who cited concerns about property and fence damage, competition for grazing resources, the loss of livelihood and brucellosis. Some were worried about losing grazing allotments on the refuge.

Craig French of Phillips County said the meeting might not be about Yellowstone bison but ranchers can’t ignore the Yellowstone situation.

“If it was in my power to do so, I would hold these people responsible and throw them in jail for cruelty to the animals and mismanagement of the land,” French said. “At least we agree that things need to be grazed. We’re arguing over what should graze.”

Jim Posewitz of Helena also argued for the animals but said people have a moral responsibility to recover a species that they almost eliminated in the late 1880s.

“What happened in Montana is shameful. We have become the bone yard of a continent,” Posewitz said. “Will this be the point in Montana history where we become committed to finishing the wildlife restoration legacy?”

Sheep rancher Becky Weed of Belgrade said that bison and Montana cattle ranchers shared one trait that could serve as common ground for resolution: both need natural functioning ecosystems.

“It’s up to this group to try and explain to each other why the bison issue and the long-term cattle ranching issues are really one and the same,” Weed said. “This is a plea to the ranchers and to the environmentalists to understand why we all have a vested interest in seeking some kind of resolution to this.”

Following public comment, the group started problem-solving exercises to develop some recommendations by the end of Tuesday.

A sad Montana moment for wild bison

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

For wild bison, the idyllic images of Montana being splashed across Seattle ads does not match reality, according to guest columnists Bonnie Rice and Glenn Hockett.



THE state of Montana has been spending big bucks in Seattle and other cities across the U.S. to entice people to visit its great state. You’ve probably seen the billboards, bus ads and store banners across town with beautiful, scenic images of Yellowstone National Park and its wildlife. Unfortunately, for one of Montana’s most recognizable animals, wild bison, this idyllic image doesn’t match reality.

Bison have been at the center of controversy this spring as they leave Yellowstone National Park in search of grass and calving grounds in Montana adjacent to the park. Instead of being allowed to roam outside the park year-round like other wildlife, bison are hazed back into the park, or captured and shipped to slaughter. Hundreds of bison were killed this year.

This policy stems from a disease called brucellosis, which can cause infected pregnant animals to miscarry. Cattle introduced brucellosis into the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem about a century ago, and some wild bison and elk still carry it. The livestock industry is concerned about wild bison transmitting the disease back to livestock. Such a transmission has never been documented, but the potential, although incredibly small, exists.

Over the last decade, several changes have opened the door for better management of wild bison in Montana. With retired grazing allotments and fewer cows on the landscape, there are tens of thousands of acres of public land where there are no potential conflicts with cattle, ever. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also made sweeping changes to brucellosis regulations a few years ago, and they are now more reasonable and livestock-producer-friendly.

It’s clear that the old ways of bison management need to be updated. Working together, a broad set of conservationists, wildlife experts, ranchers, hunters and interested citizens came to consensus in support of significantly expanding year-round habitat for bison in Montana. Last summer, the state issued a formal proposal based on that recommendation. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 100,000 public comments on the proposal supported increased year-round habitat.

But in late May, the Montana Board of Livestock voted to indefinitely delay any decision on year-round habitat for Yellowstone bison, even though the Department of Livestock was a co-lead in formulating the state’s proposal. It’s now up to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and it’s unclear how he will proceed.

Science, economics, public opinion and common sense make clear that opening up significant year-round bison habitat in areas without livestock conflicts is the logical path forward. Doing so would give the state more management options and flexibility. More fair-chase hunting opportunities would be created. Fewer taxpayer dollars would be wasted on unnecessary hazing, capture and slaughter. Wild bison would finally be allowed to roam portions of Montana, bringing ecological and economic benefits and sharing the landscape with all of the other wild animals that call Montana home.

Of course, negative publicity for the state of Montana would be reduced, too. Tourism is responsible for a huge portion of the state’s economy, and many of the tourists that visit Montana in response to the state’s tourism campaigns come to see wild bison and Yellowstone National Park.

The proposal for significant year-round habitat is not a choice between wildlife or livestock that would benefit one at the expense of the other; it would be a step forward for both Montana residents and visitors alike. No compelling reasons have been advanced for not moving forward with significant year-round habitat in Montana. In fact, to not move forward — given all of the major recent changes — would be a great setback and failure for the state.

It’s time for Gov. Bullock to do what science and the public have demanded: allow for year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana. It’s time to make the picture-perfect advertisements a reality.

Jardine man shoots bull bison

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Laura Lundquist, Bozeman Chronicle

Gardiner-area resident Bill Hoppe last week killed a bull bison outside his home in Jardine.

Riders with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Department of Livestock had hazed bison away from Hoppe’s residence several times prior to the shooting, said FWP spokeswoman Andrea Jones.

Bison are allowed to wander outside of Yellowstone National Park until May 1, but riders haze the animals away from private property where owners don’t want them.

On Friday, Hoppe’s wife saw three bison in the yard and was worried for the safety of her dog, which was chained to the side of the house.

She called Hoppe, who came home and tried to disperse the bison, Jones said.

Hoppe said one of the bison charged him so he shot it, Jones said.

Hoppe then killed the bison and called FWP wardens, who surveyed the scene. They hazed the other two bison back into the park.

The bison was field-dressed and the meat was sent to be processed for local food banks. The gut pile was left in the yard.

Jones said the bison might have been more on edge because they’ve been repeatedly hazed. Bison aren’t normally aggressive except when protecting young.

FWP encourages landowners to request help when dealing with bison. But bison are not protected as an endangered species, and people can shoot bison to protect themselves.

Last spring, Hoppe shot one of two wolves that were suspected of killing sheep that he placed on a pasture he leased a few weeks before near Corwin Springs.


Nez Perce tribe may seek bison hunting rights in Yellowstone

Message - Yes I am an idiot
REUTERS Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Nez Perce tribe once hunted bison in what is now Yellowstone National Park, and some tribal leaders want to revive the practice, which ended with Western settlement and the near total extermination of the once-vast U.S. bison herds.

Today, remnants of the bison, or buffalo, herds still roam the grasslands and river valleys of Yellowstone, a huge park that covers parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The park lands, in which hunting is illegal, once made up a key segment of the Idaho tribe’s traditional hunting grounds, and some Nez Perce leaders say they should again be able to hunt buffalo inside the park.

“Before there was a park, there was a tribe,” Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman said. [but for 100,000 years before there were tribes, bison roamed free of human hunting.] “Some of our members already feel we have the right to hunt in the park, but it hasn’t been exercised because we feel it would be remiss in going forward that way.”

After asserting hunting rights tied to historic treaties in recent years, the Nez Perce and three other tribes already hunt those bison that follow ancient migration routes outside the park and into Montana in search of winter range.

The Nez Perce have not yet formally requested hunting rights inside the park. Such a request would require extensive federal review, major changes to Yellowstone policies, and congressional action to modify a founding law that banned hunting or killing of buffalo and other wildlife there.

YELLOWSTONE NPS VIA YOUTUBE Yellowstone National Park officials are against any proposal to hunt in the park. However, the bison are allowed to be shot if they wander outside the park. Montana ranchers fear bison will transmit the cattle disease brucellosis.

The prospect of hunting any of the 4,000 buffalo within Yellowstone boundaries is strongly opposed by animal advocates, who decry an existing culling program that allows hundreds of bison to be hunted and shipped to slaughter annually.

“Yellowstone is against any proposal to hunt in the park,” said David Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, the park’s science and research branch.


Whitman said the tribe would not force the issue by violating any of the park’s regulations but may seek to broach the topic with the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the national park system, or perhaps lobby Congress “to request those changes be made”.

Management of Yellowstone bison has stirred controversy for decades. Killing of animals that wander into Montana in winter in search of food aims to keep in check a herd population whose size is determined by social tolerance rather than the ecosystem’s carrying capacity, Yellowstone officials said.

The culling is also designed to ease the worries of Montana ranchers who fear bison will transmit the cattle disease brucellosis, which can cause animals to miscarry, to cows that graze near the park.

That could put into jeopardy Montana’s brucellosis-free status, which allows ranchers to ship livestock across state lines without testing.

Marty Zaluski, Montana state veterinarian and member of a state, federal and tribal team that manages bison in and around Yellowstone, is a proponent of hunting in the park and told Reuters in February it needed to be “looked at more seriously as a possible solution”.

He said it would bring the herd closer to a population target of 3,000 to 3,500 and lessen the public outcry tied to slaughter of wayward buffalo.

But Yellowstone’s Hallac contends that hunting in the park, which draws 3 million visitors a year because of tourist attractions such as the Old Faithful geyser and the bison, would further complicate matters.

“Even a proposal to hunt in the park causes more problems than the dilemma it intends to solve,” he said. “These are America’s wildlife and a crucial part of our national heritage. To propose to hunt in a place established specifically to prevent animals from being hunted is bizarre.”

Read more:

Over 7 Billion Served

Bison calves are normally born in the spring or early summer. For the first few months of their lives they’re coat is an orange color, turning progressively darker through the warm DSC_0060summertime, until by late August they are as dark as their parents and the other adult and sub-adult members of their herd.

Winters can be harsh for a young calf in Yellowstone, which is precisely the reason bison have evolved, as a rule, to being receptive to breeding exclusively in August. The ensuing gestation period assures that newborn calves are greeted with a full summer ahead of them.

Nearly every animal species living above or below the equatorial belt has adapted to Earth’s changing seasons by only ovulating during a brief window of opportunity, thereby naturally limiting their populations.

The exception to that rule is Homo sapiens, who can impregnate one another year-round.

Our species has had it easy for so long—starting fires for warmth and skinning animals for clothes and shelter—that now human babies are brought forth continuously, 24-7. At last report, 490,000 new humans per day are born to add to the 7 billion mostly carnivorous hominids already here.

Meanwhile, whenever bison herds in Yellowstone thrive enough to reach the arbitrary number of 3,000 total “head,” the park service and the Montana Department of Livestock implement a longer “hunting” (read: walk up and blast the benign, grazing, half-tame bison) season on them, or truck them off to the slaughterhouse—those nightmarish death camps where so many of the bison’s bovine cousins meet their ghastly ends in the name of human hedonism.

And people think we need to control their population?

Text and Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson



Montana Supreme Court Affirms Bison Can Roam

Rejects unreasonable demand to return to widespread buffalo slaughter

Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography © Jim Robertson

March 12, 2014

Helena, MT — The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the decision of a lower court today, allowing wild bison room to roam outside the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. The ruling upholds a February 2012 decision by state agencies to allow bison seasonal access to important winter and early spring habitat outside the north boundary of the park in the Gardiner Basin area until May 1 of each year.

The ruling rebuffs demands by some livestock producers and their allies to require aggressive hazing and slaughtering of bison that enter the Gardiner Basin area from Yellowstone National Park in the winter and early spring in search of the forage they need to survive.

“Today’s state Supreme Court ruling represents a victory for all those who want to see wild bison as a living part of the Montana landscape,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who defended the bison policy in the case on behalf of the Bear Creek Council (BCC), Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Now that the Court has rejected claims requiring bison to be slaughtered at the park’s boundaries, we can move forward to secure room for wild bison to roam outside of Yellowstone National Park over the long term.”

In two lawsuits filed in May 2011, the Park County Stockgrowers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and Park County, Montana, sought to block implementation of the new policy and require state officials to adhere to outdated plans for bison hazing and slaughter. Although the plaintiffs in the cases raised concerns about the potential for bison to infect cattle with brucellosis, the only two cattle ranchers operating year-round in the Gardiner Basin did not join the legal challenge.

Bison are the only native wildlife species still unnaturally confined to the political boundaries of Yellowstone National Park for any part of the year. As recently as 2008, more than 1,400 bison—about one-third of the current size of Yellowstone’s bison population—were captured and slaughtered by government agencies while leaving Yellowstone in search of food.

Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699 , ext. 1923
Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2098

Yellowstone Seeks Information on Illegal Bison Shootings

March 18, 2014

National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior

Yellowstone National Park
P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

March 18, 2014 14-012

Al Nash or Dan Hottle
(307) 344-2015


Yellowstone Seeks Information on Illegal Bison Shootings

Yellowstone National Park is asking for the public’s help in identifying who was responsible for illegally shooting and killing three bison inside the park last week.

Park rangers determined the bison were likely shot between the evening of March 13 and morning of March15 alongside the road in the Blacktail Plateau area of northern Yellowstone.

A reward of up to $5,000 is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for the crime. Anyone with information is requested to call the Yellowstone National Park Tip Line at 307-344-2132 .

The Lacey Act and the Code of Federal Regulations strictly prohibit the killing or removal of any animal from inside Yellowstone. This includes animals shot legally outside the park that cross into and die within the park boundary. Taking and removing any animal parts, including shed antlers, is also prohibited.

Violators are investigated and aggressively prosecuted, and are subject to penalties including fines, restitution, and the forfeiture of vehicles, equipment and personal property associated with the violations.

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Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Tension Escalates Over Hunting of Pregnant Bison Outside Yellowstone

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

By Laura Zuckerman SALMON, Idaho Fri Mar 7, 2014

(Reuters) – Angered by the killing of pregnant bison outside Yellowstone National Park, a Native American tribal member tried to deliver a bloody bison heart to Montana’s governor this week, the latest skirmish over the management of the iconic animal.

James St. Goddard, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and former member of the tribe’s governing council, said he found the heart where hunters from another tribe discarded it after gutting a bison killed when many females are well along in their pregnancies. At another location, he said, he found several fully formed fetuses cut out of bison cows.

“These are atrocities. Why are they killing these babies? Are we all ignorant of our own Indian culture?” said St. Goddard, who was prevented by authorities from presenting the bison heart to Montana Governor Steve Bullock at his office in Helena.

St. Goddard’s protest, which was not sanctioned by the Blackfeet Nation, highlighted controversy over practices – which have divided some tribal members – in which bison that stray out of Yellowstone have been killed in extended tribal hunting seasons.

The protest against the actions of other tribes came amid broader tensions about the management of the nation’s last band of wild, purebred bison, or buffalo, over concerns by Montana ranchers that the animals could transmit the cattle disease brucellosis to cows that graze near Yellowstone.

The buffalo at Yellowstone, which cuts through parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, are all that remain of the herds that roamed vast grasslands west of the Mississippi until systematic hunting drove them to the edge of extinction in the 19th century. There are more than 4,000 bison at the park, Yellowstone figures show.

Yellowstone’s bison are prized by visitors as a symbol of the American West and by tribes whose religious, cultural and dietary traditions are centered on the animals.

Tribes have asserted hunting rights granted in 19th century treaties for animals that migrate to traditional hunting grounds, and they largely set their own rules on the timing of their seasons. Some tribal hunting seasons extend into March, ahead of a birthing season that can begin in April.

Yet within the tribes, some members have taken issue with the hunts.

The Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho defended its late season hunting as an ancient custom halted over a century ago by the U.S. government amid Western settlement, near-elimination of the herds and forced relocation of tribes to reservations.

Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman faulted St. Goddard, whose own tribal government has not opposed the hunts, for criticizing the exercise of off-reservation hunting rights gained by treaty.

“He’s creating controversy where there is no cause. He’s talking as an old enemy, and we’re not going to bend to the will of our enemies,” he said.

Ervin Carlson, the Blackfeet’s buffalo project manager and a member of a federal, state and tribal team that oversees Yellowstone bison, said St. Goddard’s sentiment did not represent the tribe.

“Those tribes have their treaty hunting rights. We wouldn’t step into their concerns,” he said.


Licensed hunting of bison that leave Yellowstone’s snow-covered high country to seek food in lower Montana elevations was sanctioned in 1985, then banned after public outcry as hunters lined up outside the park to shoot bison.

Regulated hunts were reinstituted with “fair chase” provisions in 2005 to help keep a burgeoning buffalo population in check. Four tribes have since asserted their own independent hunting rights spelled out in historic treaties.

Montana currently offers limited licenses, decided by lottery, in a season that ends in mid-February, partly to protect heavily pregnant bison, said Pat Flowers, a regional supervisor at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The hunts and a program that sends wandering buffalo to slaughter are in part a response to worries by Montana ranchers that bison will infect nearby cattle with brucellosis, which can cause stillbirths in cows.

About half of Yellowstone’s bison have been exposed to brucellosis, and roughly 300 animals that strayed from the park this winter were sent to slaughterhouses or to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for reproductive experiments. An additional 263 animals have been killed by hunters, most of them tribal hunters, in Montana.

Conflicts over the way bison are managed escalated further on Thursday with the arrest of a man who protested their killing by blocking a road to a park facility where wayward bison are penned, Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said.

The protest by a man who anchored himself to a 55-gallon drum was celebrated by Buffalo Field Campaign, which opposes the hunts and slaughter, and sends members into Yellowstone to monitor the wintering herd.

In a sign that not all tribal members agree with their governments, James Holt, a Nez Perce member who sits on the Buffalo Field Campaign board, said it was disheartening to see tribes support the activities.

“Buffalo were made wild and free and should remain so. It is painful to watch these tribal entities take such an approach to what should be the strongest advocacy and voice of protection,” Holt said in a statement.

Among tribes with hunting rights, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana restricts its season to the end of January to avoid killing pregnant bison cows, which calve in spring, Tom McDonald, the tribes’ wildlife agency manager, said.

“Our regulation is based on the votes of the people, who don’t want big-game animals harvested past the end of January because they’re pregnant. But we don’t point fingers at other tribes for their regulations,” he said.

Carl Scheeler, wildlife program manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, said the reality of gutting a two-ton animal means fetuses may be discarded from pregnant bison killed in a tribal hunting season that stretches to mid-March.

“There’s a certain level of public sensitivity to viewing large and persistent gut piles, and hunters are directed to move them out of view to the extent that’s possible,” he said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Douglas Royalty)