Yellowstone Park: A Bison Puppy Mill?


Industry reaction continues to pour in after yesterday’s announcement by Montana Governor Steve Bullock to allow for the presence of bison year round in Montana on the perimeter of Yellowstone National Park. And not just allow but also expand the area by another 100,000 acres bringing the total land area north of the park to almost 400,000 acres.


This morning, Northern Ag's Russell Nemetz spoke with Dillon, Montana rancher Jim Hagenbarth who was involved in the original Interagency Bison Management Plan or IBMP in the year 2000 and more recently on the Working Group.  Hagenbarth was very concerned that this proposal allows expanded bison range without any population restrictions specified.  Hagenbarth compares the current Yellowstone bison management to a bison puppy mill, where little effort is given to controlling bison population based on available resources such as feed or disease management.  


Montana Stockgrowers Association

Russell Nemetz also spoke with Jay Bodner with the Montana Stockgrowers Association, who notes that the Governors plan will still need to go in front of the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) partners, who have the final say in year-round bison in Montana.  He feels this does provide at least one more opportunity to provide comments to the IBMP partners on this decision before it becomes official.  

Rep. Kerry White, MT, HD 64

Representative Kerry White with Montana House District 64 feels this is a flawed plan based on political agenda and not sound science.  White along with Rep. Alan Redfield (R-Livingston), HD 61, spoke today out today on Voices of Montana against these changes to the Bison Management Plan.  He posted the following comments on his Facebook page after reviewing the 38 page decision document:

Montana Farm Bureau dismayed by governor’s bison decision

Northern Ag's Lane Nordlund spoke with John Youngberg,  Executive Vice President of Montana Farm Bureau, who also shares concerns over Montana Governor Steve Bullocks Yellowstone bison habit decision.


The official press release from the Montana Farm Bureau reiterated many of the same points:

The Montana Farm Bureau has expressed dismay with the Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s decision to a©© Northern Ag Network 2015 Northern Ag Network 2015llow for the presence of bison year-round in Montana on the perimeter of Yellowstone National Park (YNP© Northern Ag Network 2015). According to the decision, bison will be permitted to occupy suitable habitat in Montana outside of the park within manageable confines and subject to seasonal limits on numbers.


“Our members have stated numerous times that they don’t want bison outside of the Park,” said MFBF Executive Vice President John Youngberg. “We have several concerns that weren’t addressed in this decision. First is the cost. There are two state agencies that handle the bison. One is the Department of Livestock who manages the bison because they emanate from a herd infected with brucellosis and are a risk to livestock. The other is Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The decision states that some of the bison will be hazed and that costs money, which neither DOL nor FWP have.  Secondly, although the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has changed its rules on brucellosis, there is still a risk to Montana livestock producers. State veterinarians from other states continue to express concern over how Montana manages the disease.”


Youngberg noted that bison are not migratory animals, so they won’t be heading back into the Park on their own. “Bison will eat until the feed in gone, then move to the next place. The only reason they go back into the Park is because we haze them every spring. There is no way they are going to leave the expanded area unless they are hazed back into the Park and then you have the usual social/political mess that comes with hazing bison.”


Youngberg questioned the decision to allow bull bison in the Gardiner basin year-round. “Who is going to separate the cows and bulls and drive the cows back into the Park?”


Possibly the real problem stems from the increase in numbers.  The park can handle 2500 bison and now there are twice as many.  “The state has essentially given up some of their leverage on having YNP control bison numbers.  The area they are allowing the bison to wander into –  Highway 191 towards Taylor’s Fork –  is rough country and does not have much feed in it either, so this decision doesn’t benefit the bison.  In 10 years, the area will be extended yet again,” Youngberg said.  Despite the “drop dead zone” which says bison outside the new area will either be lethally removed or hazed back into YNP, management becomes a real problem with some of the public.

“In addition, this decision does not consider public safety. Right now the speed limit in the Park is 45 mph or less and gives time to avoid colliding with bison. The speed limit on Highway 191 is 70. It’s going to be terrible when a motorist hits a 2000-pound buffalo at 70 mph,” Youngberg said.


“This decision is fraught with problems. It hasn’t been thought through very well,” Youngberg said. “There are other options. The park could allow Native Americans to hunt in the Park to keep the numbers at a manageable level. With 2500 bison instead of 4500, the risk to livestock and the public would be significantly less. The bison in the Park would benefit by having sufficient feed and not having to wander.”


The Montana Farm Bureau has commented extensively on this issue, many individual Farm Bureau members have commented on this issue, and other state agricultural organizations have commented. “Unfortunately, the governor has not taken those concerns into consideration,” Youngberg concluded.

Montana Governor's Office

Northern Ag's Lane Nordlund had also reached out to the Governor's office for comment but didn't receive a response. 



For Additional Information:

The Year Round Bison Habitat Stomping Grounds in Montana

-The maps of the newly expanded 400 square miles of year-round bison habitat in Montana

Decision Issued on Year-round Habitat for Yellowstone Bison

-The governor's official press release and a link to the Bison Decision 

Montana Governor Allows Bison to Roam Outside Park

-Article in the Billings Gazette by Matthew Brown about the decision



© Northern Ag Network 2015





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