National Wildlife Federation Shares in Victory for Montana’s Bison

Breakthrough agreement allows bison to roam free

04-07-2011 // Aislinn Maestas
Bison calf

The bison of Yellowstone National Park will have more room to roam, thanks to a new agreement between federal agencies, several American Indian tribes and five states.

According to the agreement, bison will no longer be shot or hazed upon leaving Yellowstone Park. Instead they will be allowed to migrate into Gardiner Basin, a 75,000 acre area that lies immediately north of Yellowstone and encompasses the upper Yellowstone River valley.

"The establishment of the Gardiner Basin Bison Conservation Area ends an era where bison were killed or quarantined simply for walking across boundary in search of winter feed,” said Tom France, Regional Executive Director of NWF's Northern Rockies and Prairies Regional Center. “It is a huge step forward for wildlife conservation in the northern Rockies."

Since the 1990s, the Interagency Bison Management Plan has confined bison to Yellowstone National Park because many bison are infected with brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to abort. While no transmission of brucellosis between bison and cattle has ever been documented in the wild, livestock interests have insisted bison be confined to Yellowstone Park. In tough winters, bison have been slaughtered or hazed (using helicopters, all-terrain vehicles and/or horseback riders) back into the Park under the Interagency Plan. Over the last 20 years, 3,800 bison have been killed by agency employees.

National Wildlife Federation has fought for decades to change this plan. Through our Adopt-a-Wildlife-Acre program, which compensates ranchers for retiring their grazing allotments and relocating their livestock, National Wildlife Federation has successfully phased out livestock grazing in key areas around Yellowstone National Park.

In particular, the agreement with the Royal Teton Ranch to end cattle grazing on the ranch eliminated the biggest point of conflict between livestock and bison in the upper Yellowstone. Not only did National Wildlife Federation catalyze the negotiation with Royal Teton Ranch and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, NWF lead a three year capital campaign to raise $1 million to pay for this agreement.

“By ending cattle grazing through agreements with willing ranchers, we’ve eliminated the any reason for confining bison to the Park,” said France. “If no cattle are present, there can be no possibility of brucellosis transmission.”

The work to create a safe haven for bison is not over. In addition for continued work in the Greater Yellowstone, National Wildlife Federation has created a campaign to restore a wild, free-ranging bison herd in and around the 1.1 million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Montana.

Bison remain the one big game species for which significant restoration has not occurred on the Northern Great Plains,” said France. “With the continued help of our supporters, we believe we can achieve this goal." 

Related Resources
  • Bison Restoration
    Learn more about National Wildlife Federation's campaing to restore bison to Montana's Northern Great Plains at
  • Adopt-a-Wildlife-Acre
    Through NWF’s Adopt-a-Wildlife-Acre program, we’ve secured over 566,000 acres of vital Yellowstone habitat. No confrontation. No conflict. Just a track record of success. Learn more at

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