GYC Explains Value of Latest Agreement for Yellowstone National Park Bison

Yellowstone bison, Kurt Repanshek photo.

The $2.8 million deal to acquire grazing rights for Yellowstone National Park bison is a good deal, according to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Kurt Repanshek photo.

On April 17, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis announced that an agreement had been struck that opens up additional habitat for bison north of the park. This deal signifies the biggest step forward for Yellowstone bison in over a decade and will result in bison roaming onto traditional winter habitat over six miles north of Yellowstone National Park. The agreement provides a vital corridor for bison to move through the Royal Teton Ranch and north to Cutler Lake, south of Yankee Jim Canyon.

This agreement signifies the first time since federal and state agencies have been managing bison together that an investment will be made in the welfare of bison rather than simply hazing them back into the park or shipping them to slaughter when they attempt to leave the park. The Park Service has secured $1.5 million, the State of Montana has committed $300,000, and Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other conservation organizations have pledged to raise the remaining $1 million by this fall to have everything in place for next winter.

Year after year, the bison slaughter results in unflattering national and international attention and is a black eye for local communities and Montana. This long and snowy winter was no exception. It reminds us once again that current management of this species is significantly flawed and changes are needed if we hope to manage bison as valued, native wildlife.

And if the day-to-day reporting on the largest bison slaughter since the 1800s wasn’t enough to hammer home that bison management isn’t working, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) just completed a two-year study that concluded the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), which directs all aspects of bison management, is stalled and needs significant improvement.

The GAO reported that $16 million has been spent on bison management since 2002 (this does not include money spent this year). Despite several years passing and that amount of tax dollars spent, not a single new acre of habitat has been opened up for bison use since the plan was signed. Funding for this deal will support a positive step towards much-needed habitat for bison and reducing the senseless hazing, capturing, and slaughter that has devoured tax dollars in years past.

More habitat is a key component of a long-term, sustainable solution for bison. Specifically, removing cattle from the Royal Teton Ranch was raised over and over again by bison advocates as an important part of the bison management puzzle—and again by the GAO this spring.

Bison use of the habitat made available by the Royal Teton Ranch agreement will be directed by the IBMP signed in 2000. The plan outlines that a small number of bison can use the public lands outside of Yellowstone the first year and then up to 100 the year after. Both Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Regional Director Pat Flowers and Superintendent Suzanne Lewis stated that as the agencies gain experience managing bison on this newly opened-up landscape they can use the adaptive management provision of the IBMP to allow even more bison to utilize this habitat.

While this agreement is a huge step forward, it alone does not solve the larger challenges of bison management outside of Yellowstone Park. Groups supporting this agreement – Montana Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and others - recognize that this is a first step in what we all hope is a series of conversations and projects to find ways to open up more habitat for bison north and west of the park.

For example, north of West Yellowstone, cattle no longer graze Horse Butte at any point during the year and no cattle are in the larger Hebgen Basin in the winter. Bison should be allowed room to roam there. Local residents are calling on state and federal agencies to allow bison to forage on Horse Butte. This is one of several examples in which the IBMP must respond to on the ground changes that will provide bison more room to roam outside the park while maintaining separation between bison and livestock.

Working together, all of us who love bison need to push for those changes and more. The ultimate goal we all share is a free-ranging bison population that’s treated like other wildlife.

The Royal Teton Ranch agreement should be viewed as a beginning of, not an end to, positive change for Yellowstone bison.

Amy McNamara is the National Parks Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She lives and works in Bozeman.

Comments

I cannot agree that there is any value to the latest agreement and argued as much in a recent essay on my blog (see link for Jim's Eclectic World) below.

Let's look at Amy's response more closely:

She writes


This agreement signifies the first time since federal and state agencies have been managing bison together that an investment will be made in the welfare of bison rather than simply hazing them back into the park or shipping them to slaughter when they attempt to leave the park. The Park Service has secured $1.5 million, the State of Montana has committed $300,000, and Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other conservation organizations have pledged to raise the remaining $1 million by this fall to have everything in place for next winter.

In the welfare of bison? How so? There are 25 buffalo that will be allowed in under the first year of the agreement; they aren't allowed in permanently. They continue to be tested, they will be fitted (the cows) with vaginal transmitters. It's not "simple hazing"; it's in some ways worse. When the buffalo return or are forced to return back to Yellowstone in the spring, there's no telling what will happen with those 25 buffalo the next year. Another 100 might be allowed in to face the same torture. So, how has any buffalo's life been improved? As I suggest in my essay, this doesn't in any way move forward the situation of the buffalo; all it means is that the government agencies are changing the parameters of their testing / hazing / slaughter / torture program. In fact, where those 25 aren't really even protected over the long term, it's perhaps too generous to say that out of 1,601 killed buffalo when this plan was announced, 1,576 would still be dead. Those 25 don't live better, lives, at the number of 25, they are separated from their family units in their herds, and they face a very uncertain future. For what, $800 per animal unit month for the life of a lease that's otherwise unnecessary?


Funding for this deal will support a positive step towards much-needed habitat for bison and reducing the senseless hazing, capturing, and slaughter that has devoured tax dollars in years past.

In what way? As Glenn Hockett of the Gallatin Wildlife Association has pointed out; there already are public access lands that bypass the Royal Teton Ranch. Of course, this isn't actually new habitat for wild buffalo. It's not a step towards it, either, since these animals aren't really allowed to stay on the land. To give minimal grazing habitat to a small number of buffalo for the winter season under these conditions is not better than the current hazing program. But, it gives the impression that it is, actually sending the fight for habitat for these animals backwards - given the pretense that the government actually is making progress and making it seem as though we are closer to a solution for the buffalo. In fact, only the terms of the boundaries have changed, and the Church Universal & Triumphant has gotten rich. It also makes it seem as though certain environmental groups are making progress on wildlife issues so that they can continue collecting funds and stay in business. But, the buffalo? Not a single buffalo - not even the 25 - benefit from this deal.


While this agreement is a huge step forward

This is exactly the sort of reasoning that I argue against in my recent essay.


The Royal Teton Ranch agreement should be viewed as a beginning of, not an end to, positive change for Yellowstone bison.

Don't be fooled. This is not a positive change for the Yellowstone bison; not even a mere beginning. Buffalo gain nothing by this deal, and if we believe that they have gained, they will actually lose because I'm afraid we will lose sight of the continuing clear injustice that the buffalo face. Over half of Yellowstone's herds have been killed or have died this winter; no progress has been made on their behalf, and it's unfortunate that these environmental organizations are promoting a deal as beneficial that's completely unnecessary and - worse than that - will give people a false sense of progress. Now, unfortunately, we have to fight this new deal as part of promoting respect for Yellowstone's buffalo populations.

***as an aside, I am speaking here as an individual and not speaking here on behalf of the buffalo advocacy grassroots group I belong to in Bozeman or with Buffalo Field Campaign. Buffalo Field Campaign, however, has spoken vociferously out against the plan (as have members of the Gallatin Wildlife Association).***

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

the deal marks yet another illustration of the bankruptcy of the collaborative model for species advocacy in the west - as it relates to the livestock industry. When will GYC be willing to fight for what it alleges to believe in ? Instead, these groups demonstrate the desire to avoid controversy as an endeavor even more important to the group than the wildlife it purports to afford advocacy for.

$2.8 million for those CUT cattle is extortion. It's wrong. Proclaiming the deal to be good for bison floating the idea on such lofty generality is weak. GYC's inability to muster the courage to identify and decry the livestock industry's political stranglehold of this entire process, and join with the others who see that this politicized myth-mongering must stop - not by placation - is a shortcoming that GYC needs to mull-over.

I implore GYC, and urge members and leadership alike, to take the time to redress this wayward path the group has chosen to pursue. It's wrong.

Amen "be". Any group and any individual (including myself) who considers themselves to be even remotely concerned all the way to absolutely ticked off about this issue should make as much noise as possible about this absurd situation and great example of greed and extortion by CUT. No one is being held accountable...I mean how long did it take the GAO to "discover" that this issue has been a dead horse for so long. No one is being watched, no one is being given a deadline. There's just an open ended "problem" created because a bunch of agencies don't want to make the first move and don't want to lose thier respective interest in the deal. No one is putting pressure on groups like the ag/livestock depts to start thinking about ways they can contribute to making changes instead of expecting everyone around them to come up with the plan and the $$ to do it for them. When are we going to stop letting them get away with this, and make them start finding ways to make their cattle "safe" from a disease they know isn't spread from a species that doesn't need to be "managed"? Are there enough of us out here who can bring the noise to those who don't want to hear it? Senators, congressmen/women, governers, etc. Make the calls, send the mail, be a pest, make them listen, or tick them off by trying, but do something.