Yellowstone's Bison Under the Gun, Again

One, two, three, four, five…It took at least 24 minutes and four bullets for the first Yellowstone bison to die. The victim was grazing on public lands and showed no fear as a 17-year-old hunter approached to point-blank range before taking his first shot.

After he was hit, the bull bison attempted to rejoin his herd mates grazing only feet away, while the hunter and his entourage stood nearby. Once down, after several agonizing shots, the bison continued to struggle. Meanwhile, the herd began to surround him, only to be hit with stones thrown by the hunter and his family. The bison's suffering finally ended after almost half an hour, and he was butchered.

Yellowstone bison surround a fallen member of their herd—the first victim of this season's hunt—after hunters tried to scare the animals away by pelting them with rocks.

Buffalo Field Campaign

This was the scene on the early morning of Nov. 15 as Montana, ignoring the lessons of history, began its first bison hunt in 15 years. As more of the animals became victims, the tragedy only escalated—with many bison taking up to an hour to die after being shot repeatedly. One took three hours to die. Another was shot while lying down. By mid-January, 31 bull bison had been killed by hunters.

The hunt soon became just a small part of what appears to be one of the deadliest years for the beleaguered bison of Yellowstone National Park. Soon after the New Year, nearly 600 bison—over 10 percent of the entire population—were captured by the National Park Service and sent to slaughter without testing for Brucella abortus, in a direct violation of the government's own bison management plan. The only survivors of this massacre were a few dozen calves destined for a controversial quarantine experiment.

During this same week, a herd of bison was nearly killed because of an unnecessary hazing operation (in which the animals are harassed into moving to a certain area) carried out by state and federal agents near the western boundary of the park. While they were chased across the frozen surface of Hebgen Lake, the ice collapsed and 14 bison fell in the frigid waters. Two bison extracted themselves immediately, as the remaining 12 struggled to survive. In a blatant display of incompetence and callousness, the agents did nothing to aid the animals for nearly two hours. Eventually, 10 exhausted survivors were removed from the icy waters. Two bison drowned.

These are just a handful of over 3,500 bison who have been killed by hunters and government officials since 1985. Why kill such a peaceful, unsuspecting species? The answer is that it supposedly prevents the transmission of Brucella abortus, the bacterium that causes brucellosis in cattle. Yet the reality is that the risk of transmission is virtually non-existent, and only pregnant bison pose even a theoretical threat. More importantly, there has never been a confirmed case of brucellosis passed from bison to cattle under natural conditions—and without cattle present during the winter months, there is no risk from bison occupying lands beyond the western park boundary.

In the months to come, hundreds more bison may be killed by hunters or brutally captured and shipped to slaughter for no reason except to placate the cattle industry. Sadly, with each bison killed, a little bit of the majesty of Yellowstone—America's first and most famous national park—dies as well.


Please contact these officials to express your opposition to the hunting, capture and slaughter of Yellowstone's bison.


Fran Mainella
National Park Service Director
849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20040
phone: (202) 208-6843; fax: (202) 208-7889

Governor Brian Schweitzer
Office of the Governor, State Capitol
P.O. Box 200801, Helena, MT 59620-0801
phone: (406) 444-3111; fax: (406) 444-5529


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