Expand Habitat for Yellowstone's Wild Bison

August 31, 2015

A herd of Bison graze near the Grand Teton Mountains
Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

By the early 1900s, only about two dozen wild bison remained in the United States. These sole survivors were found in Yellowstone National Park, and now this population includes nearly 5,000 wild bison, which help maintain the health of grasslands and provide food and habitat for other species. In late winter and spring, however, some of the animals migrate out of the park in search of more accessible forage. As they leave, many are hazed and sometimes slaughtered because of outdated management plans. Yellowstone’s iconic wild bison need more room to roam.

NRDC works to protect the Yellowstone bison and get them managed more like other wildlife. When the bison leave the park, some ranchers express concern about brucellosis, a nonnative disease that can cause cattle to abort fetuses. The risk of a bison-to-cattle transmission of brucellosis is tiny—not a single case has ever been documented in the wild—but hundreds of bison are often hazed or killed merely for stepping out of Yellowstone.

With frustrations running high around the issue, we worked with other stakeholders to help launch the Citizens Working Group on Yellowstone Bison, aimed at creating consensus-based recommendations for working through conflict and creating new policy solutions. Committed to finding common ground, this group of ranchers, business owners, hunters, landowners, concerned citizens, and wildlife advocates was successful in developing solid consensus recommendations for how bison management could be improved.

Today, NRDC calls for managing bison as a wildlife species like elk and deer. And when it comes to reducing the risk of brucellosis transmission, the focus should be on managing livestock, not wildlife. We also recommend making more habitat available outside Yellowstone for bison all year long. With extensive year-round habitat outside the park, these animals can finally be treated as the magnificent native wildlife species they are.

We're pushing for these changes as the State of Montana and Yellowstone work to update the current bison-management plan. The previous bison plan was finalized in 2000, and recent science and on-the-ground lessons reveal that a new approach is warranted. NRDC works to ensure the park manages bison like its other wildlife and encourages free-roaming herds.