Guest Columnist: Bison management out of touch with reality

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Sunday paper.

By Zack Waterman, Glenn Hockett, Sabina Strauss, and Becky Weed, guest columnists

Photo of Dome Mountain bull bison courtesy of Jim Klyap, Dome Mountain Ranch manager.


On the morning of Friday, April 12, 2013, a bull bison was several miles north of Yellowstone National Park on the remote Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Unfortunately, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), with assistance from MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks responded to this situation by aggressively pursuing this lone bull and killing him.

After laying waste to the bull under the auspices of disease control, the DOL left the carcass to rot. This situation is particularly troubling given the DOL knows bull bison pose no risk of transmission of brucellosis to domestic cattle, not to mention the fact the Dome Mountain “Wildlife Management Area” was purchased specifically to provide habitat for migrating wildlife in an area that is completely free of cattle. Furthermore, there were no conflicts with private property as the adjacent Dome Mountain Ranch has already made it clear that bison are welcome to use their land just like elk, mule deer, grizzly bears, and other wildlife that live in Greater Yellowstone.

In an effort to justify this extreme response, Department of Livestock chief executive officer Christian MacKay explained the bull had to be lethally removed because he was outside of the bison “tolerance zone.”

When government agencies slaughter a bison in a remote area that was posing no threat whatsoever to livestock, private property, or public safety, it’s time to revisit how we manage migrating bison in Montana.

Let’s begin by abandoning the assumption that all bison that leave the state’s negligibly small “bison tolerance zone” are de facto problems that must be immediately removed. We agree that we do not want cattle to contract brucellosis. But can we also agree to manage bison as valued native Montana wildlife, at least on some public lands owned by all Americans?

The good news is there are many public lands like the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area that are located outside of the state’s arbitrary “bison tolerance zone” that provide critical winter habitat for elk – and they can do the same for bison without harming private property. Each year approximately $3 million of taxpayer dollars are spent to remove migrating bison from public lands in Montana. In an era when Americans are tightening their belts and national debt continues to grow, it’s nonsensical to waste limited taxpayer resources.

Elk from Yellowstone National Park have migrated and wintered in this same area for years. Grizzly bears and wolves also use the same area. Now a lone bull bison found this conflict-free habitat near Dome Mountain and the DOL needlessly intervened and killed it. What gives? It’s time for a new approach that takes meaningful steps towards managing bison as valued native wildlife while respecting both public and private property rights. Let these animals show us the way to a habitat solution rather than continue to harass and slaughter them for crossing an imaginary government line.

Unfortunately, we lost a valuable opportunity to learn from the April 13 Dome Mountain bull bison. Such an opportunity will arise again. If we seize that chance to learn, and begin to explore what it means to consider bison-on-public-lands as an asset rather than a catastrophe for the state of Montana, landowners, hunters, tourists and all Montana citizens will reap the benefits Overwhelming public support exists for managing bison as wildlife on appropriate landscapes in Montana. If we adopt a learn-as-you-go approach and tailor bison management as needed, including public hunting, it will become clear the sky is not falling.

Zack Waterman represents the Sierra Club; Glenn Hockett is volunteer president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association; Sabina Strauss is owner of the Yellowstone Basin Inn in Gardiner; and Becky Weed is owner of Thirteen Mile Lamb & Wool Company. The authors are members of the bison citizens working group, which formed to develop consensus recommendations to improve the management of Greater Yellowstone bison.


3 thoughts on “Guest Columnist: Bison management out of touch with reality

  1. Excellent letter. I read it in the Chronicle and was really impressed with the writing, message, and concise line of reasoning. Great work!!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Thank you for bringing light and meaning to a public policy. Shocking. I agree that the $3million annual budget is questionable. I don’t eat beef but on extremely rare occassions. I don’t like the endless subsidies for beef, such as this activity.

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