© 2024 Boise State Public Radio
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

A new facility will allow Yellowstone to send more Bison to tribes across America

Penny Preston

Since the late nineties, Yellowstone National Park has sent thousands of bison to slaughter. They did it in keeping with a legal agreement with the state of Montana to control populations and keep the animals from leaving the park in search of food in the spring. Yellowstone officials and the Intertribal Buffalo Council, which represents 83 tribes, celebrated an expanded holding facility that will reduce the slaughter, and send more live animals to tribal lands across the country.

Officials cut the ribbon in an opening ceremony recently.

More than 6,000 bison live in Yellowstone National Park now. It is the greatest number since the early 2000’s, when the park was required to limit the population to 3,000.

In the winter of 1996-97, there were about 3,000 bison in Yellowstone, when gunmen at the Park’s northern border in Montana shot hundreds of them as they were moving north out of the park for food.

“They lost fifty percent of the bison," Yellowstone Park Superintendant Cam Sholly said. "There was no tribal hunting. Bison were killed right on the boundary.”

Blackfeet tribal member Ervin Carlson is the President of the Inter -Tribal Buffalo Council (ITBC).

“We were here, and the slaughter was going on, and ITBC litigated, to stop the slaughtering of those animals.”

But, the killing continued for decades. Yellowstone employees rounded up hundreds of bison each spring to be sent to slaughter. It was required by a court mediated agreement with the state of Montana, which sought to protect nearby cattle ranches from the possible spread of brucellosis from the bison.

“I remember in 2008, that number exceeded 1,500 animals," Chris Geremia, the park's lead bison biologist said. "This winter, it was 88.”

The Park’s management team has a new tool now. They have more holding pens to keep bison that are tested for brucellosis until they are cleared for shipment to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.

“And so far we’ve shipped almost 300 animals to our partners the Assinoboine and Sioux at Fort Peck,” Superintendent Sholly said.

The Fort Peck tribes have another brucellosis testing and holding facility which allows the state and USDA APHIS to come on to tribal lands and inspect that facility.

Park Superintendent Cam Sholly pointed out the Fort Peck tribes, have sent bison to 23 tribes in 12 states.

"The bison were transported as far south as Oklahoma, and as far north as Alaska, where they had to be flown on a Federal Express plane,” Sholly said.

Bison are still killed as they leave the park to seek food. Yellowstone officials said 1,500 were hunted and killed this spring by tribal members, who took the meat home to feed their families.

Copyright 2023 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Penny Preston

You make stories like this possible.

The biggest portion of Boise State Public Radio's funding comes from readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

Your donation today helps make our local reporting free for our entire community.