Jenny Jones, bison ecology and management office of Yellowstone National Park
Commentary on PowerPoint presentation (2008)
It’s nice to get the whole picture from everybody and decide for yourself, hopefully. This is a bison
collar…brands use. GPS bison collar- put on several to track a bunch of things. We have about 70 tagged
animals on the landscape.
Bison management in Yellowstone. This is a pretty typical event in the last ten years. (Power point image
of cowboys herding buffalo). This is a hazing operation. Most of the people on horseback do work for the
park service. This is on the Northern Management Zone. I believe you guys drove out west; it’s another
Western Management Zone. It has some park service assistance, but it’s primarily other agencies with that
over there. This is a typical scene January through April. There’s a lot of bison that occasionally exit the
park and we try to push them back in.
(cartoon) There’s the line. When they step over the line outside the park, it really does tend to freak people
out. There are a lot of people who get concerned when they leave. Elk are ok though, which is another issue
we’ll get into. Elk are alright. They can leave, it’s no big deal. The bison are a really big issue of what
happens when they leave the park. To get to that you really need to know the history of bison in the park.
Bison in general in the U.S. historic range. It shrinks really rapidly due to hunting. The actual number is
still debated- you can ask people, it was either 60 million or 120 million, I’ve even hear. The range of 3060 million in the United States. They were wiped out really fast in the 1800’s.
Pretty much disappeared from around here early on, mostly the large populations. Then you went out to the
Mid West and there were some pockets over here along the front. In 1901, this was kind of when bison
restoration first began. Some people took the steps to say hey, we’re in trouble here. We really don’t want
to wipe the these out, they’re very interesting unique species to North America. We’re the only country that
has bison. Other people have buffalo, but they’re not the same. 25ish, it’s kind of hard to count buffalo;
especially the ones that survived were rather skittish. Established about 25 bison were left in Pelican
Valley; it’s a very remote valley down in the southern section of the park, near the lake. They were hiding
out there basically because it’s very hard to get to.
They started a conservation program. This was one of the first in the U.S. that actually tried to save a
wildlife species. This was all before the Endangered Species Act in the early 1900’s. They began a
ranching operation in Lamar Valley, have you guys been to Lamar Valley and seen the Buffalo Ranch?
Yep. That was a real ranching operation. It worked like a cattle operation. There were huge fences and lots
out in the valley. They brought in bison from two herds, still trying to do the genetics, not mixing too
much. They brought in 3 bulls from the Goodnight herd in Texas, all cows from another herd in Montana.
They mixed them and started breeding them and really doing genetics and husbandry like you would with
cattle. A couple of times they went in to Pelican Valley, specifically to go capture calves. They were
successful. Got a couple one year and one another year add to add them to the gene pool. They started
ranching them, push them up hills in the summer and grow hay in the valley, so it was completely ranched.
You can see early restoration, completely controlled, very hard to get them back up so let’s increase the
population as much as we can. And then 1930’s alright, there’s enough of them let’s let them go. They
stopped ranching them. They stopped bringing them in for the winter. They didn’t feed them. They just let
them go do their thing. This while time the population in Pelican Valley is also increasing on its own- a
little slower, because they didn’t have supplemental feed, and they were in a hard part of the park. So they
started expanding their range a bit more.
Then in the 1950’s or 60’s, there were 1,500 bison and they said, oh wait a minute. We’ve been pretty
successful, that might be too many. At the time, it was thought the range conditions around here could only
handle about 1,000 animals so they started culling. They would either capture them and cull out and
remove some bison or they would even shoot them in some of the remote places of the park to try to drive
the population back down. They tried to keep them at this level and they also at this point in the 1950’s
began testing and slaughtering for brucellosis, which I’m sure you guys have heard already. Essentially
they were trying to control this disease, trying to eradicate it. So they began removing, but they got to a low
point of just over 200 animals and realized we might actually drive them out of existence trying to kill all
the ones that test positive for the disease. They stopped that because they realized we’re way too low. Let’s
just let them go. They did this with a lot of animals, just natural regulation is the term. Were not going to
shoot them, we’re not going to do anything with them; we’ll just let them do what they do and just see what
happens.
The idea, especially with the elk is hopefully they’ll reach a plateau and stay there and that would be a good
enough number and they’ll help support themselves…graphic…yellow bar you can see the bison reproduce
very well. They don’t have a lot of predators, nothing that will actually drive the population down. There’s
actually about a 10% increase every year. So if you have 4,000 bison, you get 400 at least to bump up the
population every year. So they grew rapidly. The black on the bottom are removals so those are
management removals, purposefully taken through culling, through hunting, other things like that. You can
see the mid 1980’s on for our management that really started having removals pretty regularly. They were
hoping that they wouldn’t be regular, that maybe every 10 years you’d have to remove a lot. Bison started
showing up at the boundary almost every year. Great. It was the first success story of the government
actually bringing back a species from the brink of extinction, but there’s a problem. Everything always
can’t be great at the end.
Brucellosis was actually discovered way back in 1917. Pretty much proven they picked it up from a dairy
cow that was brought in to nurse calves that were brought from Pelican Valley. Dairy cows were used back
then. They ranched meat for visitors so they picked it up from cattle. Brucellosis. It’s a very contagious
disease, through contact only. It’s a bacteria. It typically localizes in the reproductive tract or lymph
system. Bison, elk and cattle are the main hosts were concerned with around here although you do get a lot
of other hosts. The main hallmark calling card of brucellosis is abortions for the first pregnancy after
exposure. Mainly cattle do have a large problem with it. Typically all abort their first. Bison…it doesn’t
seem to necessarily. They don’t abort as much as cattle do. They sometimes do have non viable calves. For
cattle industry that’s a dead end. That’s kind of a problem. Then lesions inside and retained placenta,
another big calling card, at least among the bison. They spread it through oral contact. If they go up and
lick a newborn calf that has it, that’s exposure and can pick it up. Bison, if you’ve seen them, they lick
things and then the tongue goes in the nose all the time so tons of contact. Calves can get it from their
mothers if they’re infected. They drink the milk and it’s infected. It hangs out in all of the reproductive
tissues and it gets in the milk. So there’s your vertical transmission. Horizontal transmission would
sometimes at birth sites you get other bison, they’re really interested in what is going on and they’ll come
over and lick the cow or some of the material will fall on the ground.
There are tests you can do to determine the presence of antibodies only. So here comes the big rub with
brucellosis. You can tell if they’ve ever been exposed but you can’t tell if they’re actively infected. So it
would be like testing you for chicken pox. Great – you had it once, but you don’t have it now. That
becomes a problem with bison you can tell they had it but probably only half of the ones that test positive
for antibodies are actually infected. If you kill all of them, you’re killing ones who don’t have the disease
anymore and may in fact be immune to it because they’ve gone through the whole stage, picked up
immunity and now they’re fine and they won’t actually get it again and that’s a nice thing to have in a
population is animals that won’t get re-infected and aren’t susceptible to picking up the disease. The only
way you can tell if they’re actively infected is you have to culture tissues, which means you have to kill to
get the tissues so that’s not really very helpful. At least not when you’re trying to conserve a population to
kill it isn’t helpful at all. Bison in Yellowstone are about 40 to 50, does fluctuate a little, but that’s about
how many will test positive for antibodies. Elk on the Northern Range only test at 2%; very limited.
However the number of elk on the Northern Range is much greater than the number of bison so they
actually have more potential based on the number to spread the disease. However, the elk are not subject to
the same management restrictions that bison are.
Main driving force you can say behind that is economics. Elk represent a very large financial gain to
Montana. (15:00) People from outside the slate come in to hunt; you do the whole industry of outfitters.
Some people subsistence hunt on them a lot. You’d have a huge outcry if you tried to round up the elk, plus
it would be amazing if you could actually do that because there’s about a hundred thousand in the Greater
Yellowstone area. To get them all would not be possible so that’s one issue to bring back later is “what do
you do about the elk?”
Bison, they move. Even if they have plenty of food in one area, they would move. They’re migratory.
That’s one of the great things why they are very well suited to this habitat. They don’t stick in one place.
They don’t overgraze it. They will typically move on. As you saw the population has increased since we let
them go. With increasing population, they tend to move out and spread out to new areas with more food,
which helps sustain that population growth and that growth rate so they never really knock themselves back
down because there’s still more food and they keep going out so they keep doing that (16:08) reproductive
rate of 10% a year. When they move they typically go out. The Northern Range herd, we’ve learned some
new things about this, but they typically summer in Lamar, but in winter they move across the Northern
Range and over to mammoth and down to Gardiner and they head out that way along the south side of the
river. The central herd goes both directions, which is something new. When that giant three-volume book
was put together for a management plan they didn’t know this. They speculated, but they thought mainly
the bison in Lamar went out the North and the bison in the interior usually hanging out in Hayden Valley
would go out west. That’s not the case. We put collars on the animals and they go both ways, the central at
least. The Northern only go out the north side, but the bison in the middle of the park will only go out west,
where you guys went today, and they’ll also go north and go out as well.
Why do they leave? Bison are migratory; they will just kind of wander. Increased population pressure will
push some out. Some people speculate that the road grooming in the winter, which gets in a whole other
issue and lobby groups about should you stop plowing the roads, and you should stop grooming them. If
they weren’t groomed, they’d have to walk through three feet of snow to get out. Bison are capable of
doing that, possible less would choose to do so. It would be a big energy drain to do it. Some people
speculate by grooming the roads, you’re basically creating a freeway for them to get out of the park and
that is why more of them have shown up. That’s another debate all on its own. I really don’t personally
believe the park will ever close the park because of snowmobiling lobbies around. West Yellowstone is
basically built on snowmobiling. That will probably never change. Bison, they forage in the winter so they
use their big heads to plow through the snow. They can get down pretty good, but it takes a lot of energy.
It’s a lot easier if you don’t have to push the snow out of the way. So they do tend to walk. If there’s really
deep snow they’ll leave. Sometimes in January and February, if we get a freeze, thaw - gets really warm,
melts all the snow, then freezes again. You get a big ice layer they can’t get through that. There’s no food
so they’ll leave. If it’s a really long season, winter this year seems to last until a few weeks ago, there was
snow everywhere in the park in mid-May. On the west side, it was still covered in a foot of snow. It’s too
long for them to wait. They’re basically starving through the winter and they need food. If there’s no food,
they typically leave.
When they leave these are the areas we’re basically concerned with around the outside Eagle Creek just
north of here, that’s forest service land. They’re allowed to go there all year round. It doesn’t mean they do
but they’re allowed to go up there. Zone 1, those are buffalo areas inside the national park, but they are
intensively managed, particularly on the Northern Range. They’re not allowed to leave and sometimes they
are hazed while they are well within the park, 3-4 miles within the park and push them back because they
can walk out of the park in a few hours. Zone 2 are very restricted areas. Certain times of the year they’re
not allowed there at all. Certain land in the north, they’re not allowed at any point of the year. There’s a lot
o private property mixed in on the Northern Range, it creates kind of a problem. There are a couple of
cattle operations still outside of Gardiner and some out west, but it’s a limited degree and they aren’t
anywhere in Zone 2, they’re in Zone 3. Zone 3 they’re never allowed, and they probably never will be
allowed, if land rights stay as they are. In both Zone 3s on the west side there are cattle operations and they
don’t want to leave so I’m sure you’ve hear a lot about Zone 2 on the west side. It’s the biggest debate
lately. There are no cattle out there year round so why are bison not permitted to stay and it’s a legitimate
argument probably from my point. There are some issues. They do swim. They swim fine. They could
cross that water and be in Zone 3s is one of the issues people are scared about. They do it really easily on
the north side. It’s only about 20 feet across. Those are the areas. In the 80s, as the bison started leaving the
park a lot more, Cullings started to increase at the boundaries, there weren’t really any operations.
We had been so successful at restoring them, but we didn’t really have a plan for what do we do now. So
great, we’ve got a bunch of bison so what do we do when they leave? Nobody really had a plan. The park’s
service jurisdiction ends at the boundary so we can’t go hey you can’t do that. You have to leave the bison
alone. When they leave and they’re on the other land, other people have the jurisdiction so it becomes a
complicated issue. A bunch of lawsuits, a bunch of mediated court hearings for about 10 years and then it
led to the Interagency Bison Management Plan, otherwise known as the IBMP and by some more colorful
titles from other people. But it basically consists of the 5 agencies that are around Yellowstone National
Park that might have interactions or have bison under their jurisdiction because of the land. The National
Park Service, which is under the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service, which is under the
Department of Agriculture, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS. I had never heard of
APHIS before I came. Basically, they’re a very powerful, overarching branch of the federal government
that has control of all disease issues, both domestic and wildlife. Their big thing is they are in charge of the
brucellosis eradication program. The Montana Department of Livestock and the Montana Fish, Wildlife
and Parks are also involved in this. It’s kind of an interesting mix of different agencies with an incredible
mix of agendas.
The Department of Livestock looks after livestock interest. The Forest Service manages land for multiple
uses. Well, the Parks Service tries to keep things (?) and unchanged. 10 years of lawsuits got to this, which
is a giant three-volume book. Two goals: maintain the population, sent a minimum number for genetic
purposes and address the risk of brucellosis transmission…trying to protect the economy of the livestock
industry in Montana. They have very different agendas, different mission statements for them and we’re
trying to put people together to agree on how to manage the bison. There’s been a lot of strife involved in
this. It’s really complex. We’re trying to conserve a species and maintain this restoration that you brought
about that was a great success story, but at the same time, you’re trying to limit any economic loss to
Montana. Have all these people together and they’re trying to decide the Department of Livestock, which
is a very large voice in this, basically how you deal with disease is you get rid of the host.
Anything that tests positive you get rid of, you round them all up and you do this for a long period of time,
relatively long period of time, span is really quick. Ten years in all this is pretty quick. It took us ten years
to write the book. If you got rid of it in ten years that’s pretty fast. Wildlife, however, is not livestock. A lot
of the arguments have been about let’s treat them like livestock, no, let’s treat them like wildlife. Wildlife
you try to minimize it. Some people consider it very ethically immoral to round them all up, they’re
wildlife. Why would you round them all up and subject them to that kind of treatment for a period of times.
That’s just not what some people are willing to do. It’s more of a long-term try to help minimize risks, see
if you can combat the disease differently with less invasive tactics.
Our current management plan is supposed to be adaptive. Some people argue adaptive at a glacial pace…it
does move rather slow, but pretty much the entire thing we’re trying to do is keep bison away from cows.
That’s the whole basis for the operation, everything comes from that. Sometimes people can argue it goes a
little far, like there are no cows on Horse Butte why can’t the bison go there. We’re supposed to phase in
some tolerance and there has been a little increased tolerance. They are allowed in Zone 2 so they can go
out of the park. They can go out on the north side, but only to a limited degree and there’s time. May 15 th is
generally the deadline they’re supposed to back in. That’s what we’ve agreed on. However, that doesn’t
take in account unusual winters like this one. On May 15, there’s still a foot of snow on the west. Pushing
bison back where there’s no food and they’re in horrible condition kind of creates an ethical dilemma.
There is talk of vaccinating cattle and bison, including a remote vaccination program in the park. It is an
option. Cattle are already being vaccinated around the state.
This is kind of how it’s supposed to work. So we have this problem with bison leaving the park. They have
a disease. What can we do about it. We have this program of spatial and temporal separation, don’t mix
them. Then we’re supposed to do a lot of monitoring, we run some programs for how long does the disease
persist in the environment once it’s shed. It is only lasts a day, then what’s the big deal?
You’re supposed to adjust, the management decisions and stuff. Currently this is how to decide what we
do. First bison leave you try to haze them, if you can’t push them back in from horseback after a while,
they just won’t do it. They’re pretty tough. They’ll just turn around and come back out at people on
horseback. If you can’t haze them, then capture them. If the population was greater than 3,000 in late
winter, we do a winter count. January and February, you can do two things; decide to ship them, get rid of
them, that’s pretty much a population cull. They’ll say its disease management, but really you’re trying to
knock the population down so hopefully in the future you won’t have as many so they won’t be tempted to
leave the park. If you have less than 3,000 you can make a decision to test for brucellosis. Anything that
tests positive they ship. You can’t hold them. It’s part of AFIS, it’s illegal. You can’t hold a diseased
animal. If they’re negative you can hold them and release them. So far that hasn’t really been done on the
north side; we haven’t tested and released. Typically because they leave here in January and February
really early and there’s a whole line up behind them. If you release them, they’re just going to keep walking
out. Typically end up shipping a lot of them. Lately, the past five years, shipment to slaughter has been the
primary result from capture.
Basically they try hazing on the left, if it doesn’t work, there’s too many of them, they’ll go straight to
capture. They do get put in cattle trucks and hauled off to slaughter facility which is not a fun thing. Since
2000, 3,890 bison have been removed because of this plan. This last winter was the worst since the 1800s.
We killed about 1,700 bison, two out of every five bison that were in the park last summer died or left the
park completely. 2005-06 was bad too. This was part of their problem; they didn’t think this would be such
a routine occurrence. We killed a thousand, there’s no way we’ll do this within another 10 years. Then, two
years later, boom here we are again. Problems with how we’re currently managing the system. There’s no
ideas about what we’re removing and how it’s affecting the population. There’s no research on it. You
could skew the sex ratio. If you only kill the cows, that’s a problem. If you only have bulls, the population
won’t be able to recover as rapidly because you won’t have such a big calf crop. You kill only bulls, which
typically happens with hunting, people want the bulls, you might have a bunch of cows but they’re only
mating with 10 bulls so genetics kind of go south. With a low population size, you kill too many of them
you could be losing rare alleles or rare behavior that is now lost forever. That’s one of the big things about
Yellowstone (30:15) bison; they were the last to hold out. They’ve been here since bison were around and
they never died out. They’ve died out everywhere else in the United States, but there’s that little herd of 25.
So we’ve always had bison in Yellowstone.
People are very concerned about losing them. They’re also the only population without any cattle genes, so
they’re pure. Not this many bison usually go out of the park. With bison, the population being this large,
they do fill a really large ecological role and if you remove 1,700 without them actually staying in the
park, you’re removing a lot of biomass that would otherwise go back into the system, you impact grizzly
bears, bald eagles, a ton of other species that would have otherwise fed on the carcasses or benefited from
them. The new thing is which bison are we removing, we don’t know. We don’t necessarily know where
they came from. We have some collars on, which is one of the reasons we’re starting to do a lot of
monitoring is where did they come from? They come from the middle or the northern. You don’t want to
wipe out an entire section. So that’s become the question lately. We’ve come up with the IBMP things have
changed. What do you do now that they’re great, they’re fine, their recovery (31:43) area, like the wolf
restoration story, what do you do when they start to leave your little safety box? That is kind of the question
being talked about. What we’re trying to do is learn a bunch of stuff – birth rates, death rates, survival, who
survives, where do they go, movement patterns – all these with the help of the collars. The disease rate,
how it’s maintained in the population, nobody’s really sure how bison maintain a 40-50% prevalence rate.
There’s not as many abortions as was thought. Typically, just how people thought it was spread. We just
don’t know that much about it. We’re trying to do a long-term monitoring plan so we can understand this
stuff. Hopefully that would be the adaptive management paradigm of changing that and adjusting that so
that we can prevent ourselves from making huge errors like wiping out genetic rarities that are in this
population. So now that I’ve put you guys all to sleep, you can wake up and now I’m going to get you guys
talking.
Do you think bison will always need to be managed or could we just let them go? Do you think we can let
them go and not do anything? Do you think that will be realistic today? Probably not, yeah. You’re
probably always going to have to do something. They reproduce really well, they don’t have enough
predators. They’re just not checked by nature. That’s the reason there were 30 million of them.
Then who’s going to deal with it? That’s still what we’re having lawsuits and arguments about. There’s no
one governing body that deals with them and the people who are involved all have different ideas of what
would be successful. The Department of Livestock thinks it would be successful if you round them all up?
We think it would be successful if you just let them all go? There’s a lot of different things so who will
actually have charge of them is still up in the air.
How are you going to do it? Right now we do hazing and we capture and we ship to slaughter. Can you
guys think of any other way? How else could you manage bison when they leave? Can you think of
anything you could do with bison when they leave and you can’t have that many out there?
What do you guys do - do you guys have a lot of excess deer in Indiana? What do you do with all the
excess deer? -- Increase hunt.
They have done a hunt. Last two years, three years I think now they’ve held a hunt. It is organized by the
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, but it can be trumped by the Department of Livestock, which is a fun
one for hazing purposes or if they’re going places they can halt the hunt and go in, which is something no
other state deals with. The Department of Livestock does not usually manage wildlife in the state, but they
do for bison. That’s an argument. They’re looking at them as livestock; they’re pretty biased for a livestock
agency to have control of wildlife. That seems rather legit.
(Question) Who deems the 2,400 bison as the correct amount? Then number two, shipped out to slaughter,
what is done with the remains?
(Jenny) The 2,400 came about with the IBMP created the whole plan. They got everybody together who
had done research on bison.
(Question) -- Seems like they said people who did research that there’s not enough research and they don’t
know.
(Jenny) I would agree that you could use some more science. There’s always more you could learn,
especially about this. The current knowledge from people who are doing research and experts in their field
on carrying capacity and vegetation. They brought in some range people with cattle which is different but it
was the best knowledge you could have at the time. They wanted 2,300 and this is something the park
fought to get. Other people didn’t want a minimum so the park fought to get…you need at least 2,300
through genetic researchers how many you need in a population so they never bottleneck. Should you run
into drought for 20 years and you lose a bunch are you still going to be okay. They thought 2,300 you’d
still be okay…some people still argue that of where do you get that, that’s where they go that.
For the remains, bison are shipped to slaughter. They have 27 associated tribes that claim some type of
history with Yellowstone National Park, cultural attachment to bison even if it’s not just Yellowstone
specifically, and they can come and get the meat for free. They pick it up. It’s processed. It’s quartered only
and they get all the hides and heads and meat from the bison. If they don’t want anymore it goes to food
banks.
(Question) -- So that meat tested?
(Jenny) We do test pretty much everything that comes out. It’s fine to eat the meat. You could pick up
brucellosis from wildlife and in Idaho I think two hunters did from improperly field dressing their elk, it’s
in the lymph nodes and reproductive tract. You just need to be careful when you handle it.
(Question) -- We’ve seen bison all over the park. When you guys do your counts, what is your margin of
error ratio? How do you not know you’re counting the same ones?
(Jenny) I don’t know what the margin of error ratio would be, but we do three successive counts to get an
idea. There’s a guy who did his dissertation essentially on how do you count bison and get a population
estimate. We do run off of that – I have a couple of models based off of that – where did you see them?
What kind of habitat were they in? That has a correction factor for adding or subtracting where you saw
them and what time of year you did it and with the three flights we get a range. We take the high and the
low, run it through the model.
For bison it’s pretty good. It’s within 500, which is pretty good I’d say for counting in this area. So that
means if you go down to 1,500 there could be 1,500 plus or minus 500.
(Jenny) Probably. In different years it’s probably more accurate. Usually when they count they’re only off
a couple hundred each time, but you bump it out for possible miscounting.
(Charlie) So in other words the margin of error becomes much more critical than the number, the mean or
the average drops to lower numbers, especially if that margin of error is large. 50 out of 2,500 is 20% of the
herd.
(Jenny) Yeah, but counting wildlife it’s different.
(Charlie) Agreed, I’ve counted a lot of wildlife in my days but 20% is not acceptable. Do National Park
and Wildlife counts on birds we had to be much, much more accurate. Of course, we could see them easier.
(Jenny) The debate is what we’re trying to define risk. How much risk is there for brucellosis
transmission? Different people have different ideas. It seems like some people want zero, they want to wipe
it out. You can’t have any risk. There can’t be any brucellosis. Then other base says, well, 5% is okay?
What about the elk? They’re tolerated; they’re only at 2-3%, is that an acceptable risk level. Then we have
a lot of bulls that leave. The bulls are pretty much a zero risk for transmission. They’re not going to be
giving birth; it’s pretty hard for them to spread brucellosis. If they’re zero risk, why do they get shot down
when they leave? It’s a legitimate question that’s not really answered during our current management stuff.
They’re still pushed back in the park, they’re not tolerated, but they’re zero risk.
(Question) -- If it’s safe to eat the bison that tests positive, why isn’t it safe to eat the beef that tests
positive?
(Jenny) It’s safe to eat the meat, you handle it properly it’s fine. In 1934 it became the agenda of AFIS and
the United States government to eradicate brucellosis. There’s a lot bigger problem, people would get it a
lot, basically un-pasteurized milk. Mainly that was it, so they wanted to get rid of it completely. They’ve
spent billions of dollars trying to eradicate this disease. Montana started in the 1950s trying to get rid of it.
It is safe. They just don’t want it and it’s on their agenda. They’re trying to get rid of it and Yellowstone
wildlife is one of the last reservoirs of it and they don’t want it to infect the cattle.
(Audience) I think it hurts their economy by losing a calf one year.
(Jenny) Yeah, that’s a driving force for all the actual ranchers. If they lose a calf there goes a bunch of
money. It’s economics. For the government it’s safety slash economics. For the ranchers, it’s economic
purely.
(Brad) It comes up once in a while. I have never heard from talking to a rancher, park service, anybody
that AFIS is even willing to consider changing its rules. If they did a simple change, it seems a simple
answer.
(Jenny) What kind of change?
(Brad) Meaning they seem to be…one of the criticism is they are outdated rules with modern techniques in
food preparation and modern regulations in food handling processing that brucellosis isn’t much of a risk at
all like it used to be and that those rules should be modified. I’ve never heard any talk that that is ever
going to happen. Is that what you’re getting?
(Jenny) Yeah, they want to eradicate it. That’s still their goal, that’s still their push to get rid of it
completely. So now you could go with it’s just driving economics. Even though they’re spending billions,
the individual rancher, it’s his economic loss. If they do, basically they hand out brucellosis-free card is
handed out by AFIS. Basically it’s a status. Montana just lost theirs like a week ago, two weeks ago. If you
lose your status, it brings about a lot of financial ramifications, including you can no longer ship meat
across state lines, which is half of their point is to ship meat across state lines. They all have to do testing,
even if it was one herd, everybody is subject to testing. I’ve heard a lot of different figures, millions of
dollars to where AFIS would pay for the testing and the rancher wouldn’t, but they still have to test. It takes
them time to test and they still have to get results. It’s economics. They don’t want to lose it and they just
lost it. It takes at least two years to get it back and that depends on what the rancher does. Usually it’s
depopulating the entire herd. Every cow that tested positive is killed. You can wait and do a quarantine but
it takes five years or more. Other ranchers don’t like it because the state has essentially lost its status and
everybody gets economic hits. Nobody knows exactly what to do. It would be great if somebody could
come up with the exact answer to solve this.
(Question) -- Why do they not allow them to ship across state lines?
(Jenny) Oh I can’t even remember; brucellosis is registered as a level 3 bio weapon. You cannot transport
that disease across state lines. It’s actually really hard even, problem you can’t even work with it. There’s
one lab that just got built in Bozeman that’s allowed to handle (45:17) that disease, otherwise…
(Jenny Jones) Possible ideas for management in the future; they all have pros and cons. None of them are
great. They all have some really bad sides to them. Quarantine – currently AFIS and Fish, Wildlife and
Parks are running a quarantine facility. It’s just outside of Gardiner. There’s in enclosed fences right along
the highway. The quarantine facility has been up and running for five years. They’re trying to develop
essentially a plan or a program how you could quarantine buffalo from Yellowstone that leave in the winter
and then certify them disease free. If they’re disease free, it would still have to go through some AFIS stuff.
AFIS is the big one that’s why they’re running it because they want to say it’s disease free. You can ship it
across state lines. The idea would be you can give bison to people who wanted them. We get requests every
year for don’t kill, we’ll take them, we want them, why are you killing them when we would r4ally want
them? Especially a lot of tribes want them; other public lands in state parks, even in Montana want them.
Within Montana, within the state we can’t give them. You cannot transport them. If they were disease free
you could give them to other people. Downsides, can anybody think of a downside to throwing bison in a
quarantine facility for five years?
--Cost?
(Jenny) It would cost a lot of money…the other issue for some people is an ethical dilemma; you’re taking
wildlife and now enclosing it. They even consider you’re killing their wild nature. They’re no longer
Yellowstone bison because they’ve been stuck behind a fence. They’re essentially like cattle. What good
does that do? You’re not really saving them, because you’re changing them. That’s an argument for some
people that that’s worse, you should just…I find that it would be (47:35) better than shooting them, to give
them somewhere else to go. But they do have to go through separated. They’re trying that out. It will
probably work but then it’s up to does the park service really want to step up and do that. Where are they
going to do it? They’ll probably have to build a whole facility, are they going to build it in the park? Or
would they build it outside? Where is that money coming from? Where are you getting the land? Small
problem. And do you think people will always be needing bison from Yellowstone forever and ever?
Probably not. They reproduce really well. You give someone 80 bison; they’re probably not going to need
anymore ever. They’ll have their own herd; they’ll increase in size and they won’t need anymore. It’s a
temporary solution for excess bison. Hunting. They’ve done hunting for three years. Hunting is currently
outside the park. There have been some people promoting hunting inside the park. Some problems with
hunting…when do people typically go hunting?
--During the rut.
(Jenny) Yeah, you can go in summer. They rut July and August. The animals are typically in really good
condition. When do the animals typically leave the park?
-- Winter.
(Jenny) Yeah, on the west, late winter sometimes not until March. They leave here in January and
February; they’re still out in April. What are we getting towards in April with bison if they rut in July?
--Birthing?
(Jenny) Birthing. People don’t typically hunt; it’s unethical to hunt an animal in late-term pregnancy. I
don’t know of anyone, even people who love to hunt, who would enjoy that. It’s not pleasant. You don’t
shoot an animal and then have a nearly fully grown fetus flop out. It’s just not...you don’t do that. So that’s
a problem with timing. Sometimes the bison don’t even leave. So if you set up a hunting program in order
to cull back the population, but they don’t leave, you just increase the population inside the park and you
could have a huge exodus in a few years or next year. Sometimes they go outside the park, but it will be too
late. Basically the dilemma is okay, so you want to use hunting as most places do to regulate the
population. You need the time and the space. There’s not really a lot of land to hunt in currently. Eagle
Creek, north of here, just across the river, that’s open, but the bison typically come down to Gardiner, make
a left and head out that way instead of going across the river and up. So everybody’s ready to shoot them,
but all 200 are walking in the park where they can’t shoot them. That’s a problem. Sometimes they’re
available, but not in a place where you can shoot them. Other times they’re in a place where you can shoot
them, but it’s so late in the year they’re in horrible condition, they’re starving, they’re basically skin and
bones. It’s not what hunters want to come and shoot for.
There have been those who have proposed shooting inside the park, even possibly strictly a Native
American hint deep in the park, possible before it’s really open for the winter season in December. It would
minimize the visitor influence. People don’t like to think, National Parks, it’s like the safe zone and it is.
You think nothing gets hurt in the park. You go and start shooting a bunch of things; it ruins the idea,
particularly at Yellowstone. Then we’re back to the ages where they did shoot thousands of elk, over time,
thousands of bison inside the park. That’s also an ethical dilemma for people. Do you really go and do that?
Hunting inside the park? But it’s an option to keep the population down. Vaccination. Part of the IBMP that
we came to was that the park would initiate a remote vaccination inside the park. We have little bio bullets
that we’re testing. It’s basically bio absorbable bullet that you shoot into bison. We still need to work out
who can you shoot and at what time of the year. If you shoot a cow in late pregnancy, she might abort, then
you’ve just ruined it and exposed a bunch of other bison to possible brucellosis. Do you think you can do
it? Can you walk up to and shoot enough bison to be effective? If you shoot two and they all run away it’s
not really enough to do anything to the prevalence of the disease.
It’s how often do you have to do it. How many millions of dollars are we talking now? To go every couple
of years and try to shoot the entire population. They’re going to get wise to that pretty quick and run away
from you when you’re a mile away. There’s a lot of problems with that. The efficacy is only about 80%.
That’s not good enough for a lot of people to do that. They do currently do some vaccinations when they
come through the capture facilities at the west and on the north side. If it’s a test negative calf or a yearling,
because they’re most likely not pregnant, if we’re letting them go again in the park. Some vaccination
going on, not on a large scale yet. Keep hazing, keep capturing, it’s an option. That’s basically what the
plan says now; keep pushing them back in until they won’t go, then you capture them and ship them. This
winter was horrible. Nobody wants to repeat it, but they don’t have anything yet. They’re working on this
summer, we need to change this.
We’ve basically failed the two objectives. Montana’s lost its brucellosis status, not due to bison, but
they’ve still lost it. We could be endangering the genetic viability of the herd by losing almost 40% of
them. It’s not really the best. Something else has to change. You could increase the tolerance outside of the
park. They just got a 30 year grazing lease, which we could talk about more if you have any questions
about that. I don’t think it’s the greatest. It doesn’t give them a lot of land. It doesn’t give them a lot of land
that they really want to use. They talk about acres, but some of it it’s in the mountains where they’re not
going to go. They thought they would stop at the canyon; pretty much nothing will stop a bison if it wants
to go somewhere. It will go straight up mountains, they will go through fences. Increased tolerance, it
depends on where you’re going to draw the line. If you keep pushing the line back, they’ll go to it. Like
money, the more you get the more you spend.
The more bison you have, the further they’ll go. The more land you give them they’ll go. You’re probably
going to have a line somewhere and that comes in with combinations of stuff that you might be able to do.
Some hunting, some capturing. I told you before I don’t think winter road grooming is going to ever end.
It’s just too much of a visitor experience. Everybody wants to do it. You want to snowmobile. There’s a lot
of people who depend on it for their livelihood now. So bison will be able to get out of the park pretty easy.
Fencing for the cattle…instead of trying to solve this problem by focusing on the bison and having all of
the impacts go to bison, start doing some stuff with the cattle. Potentially, you can build fences they’re
double fences. The quarantine has them. They’re 10 feet tall, reinforced. The bison don’t go through them.
It’s too much energy. They probably could if they had to, but they’re not going to rip through them to get to
food. If you could fence in all the cattle, then the bison could go by them and there wouldn’t be any
problem of mixing. But who would pay for that? Technically, the government’s already spending millions
every year for the current management program. If you could switch that and get fencing and have to use it.
(Charlie) Since the bison are coming through some known corridors why couldn’t there be something like
a cattle grate put in roads or some for of partition that you’re snowmobiles (55:29) could go over but in this
case the cattle or the bison wouldn’t necessarily go through. Or conversely, why not try to divert them at
some point before they go out of the park, instead of trying to manage them after they go out of the park?
(Jenny) They tried both of those in the 90s and they both failed.
(Charlie) But why did they fail?
(Jenny) The bison found new ways to go through. They will cross over the Washburn Mountains to get to
the Northern Range. You might get fewer of them potentially, but they leave earlier. We’ve had some bison
leave really early before it showed to go over the mountains just to get to the Northern Range. Like I said,
they’ll go straight up mountains, they can’t quite do cliffs, they go up some really steep, rocky stuff that
I’m not comfortable walking down and they’ll go down it. They tried that. They thought this canyon out
here when you go north to Livingstone would stop some bison and they were trying to haze them back and
they too off and went straight up a mountain and went around it. They swam rivers. You might lose some
in the drowning, but the cows can manage pretty much almost any river. They tried barricades to direct
them and then push them. At one point they broke through one of the fences, said screw this, that is where I
want to go, that’s not going to stop me. Or they eventually went around, but they just came right back. It’s
too far to put up a boundary.
The other issue we ran into is all the other wildlife that migrate and are allowed to migrate. The pronghorn
they can’t quite jump high enough if you build a really high fence. The bison can jump like, eight feet. It
gets kind of tricky of how high a fence. Then you’ve got little ones, you’d have to have it open on the
bottom so disrupting to other wildlife became an issue. Maine tried wolf howls; all sorts of things, rattling
cans to try to scare them. Other people have proposed if you just shoot the first ones nothing will follow
and that doesn’t work either. They walk down, they know.
(Charlie) They’re smart, but they’re not smart.
(Jenny) Yeah…stubborn.
(Charlie) Their genes drive them to do things that they shouldn’t ought to do.
(John) Can I just follow up? I’m not a biologist, I’m an economist, but it seems to me that genetically
animals would take an easier path to get to the same place rather than a harder path; there is conservation of
energy kind of mode in animals and so these animals do follow packed roads for that reason I assume so
why can’t they be directed kind of where they want to go to special places they’re able to graze in the
winter?
(Jenny) There’s not enough land potentially. They will leave Black Tail, which is a large area just inside
the park near Mammoth and they’ll come down here. There’s not enough forage to sustain. We probably
had 1,500 bison in Gardiner in the basin this winter. There isn’t enough land for it around here. Even if you
opened the private land and people allowed them on their land, there’s not enough. If you kept them
here…there’s nowhere north you go through a whole mountain range. Basically they need to go out toward
Paradise Valley and they can’t go there. There’s no other way, you couldn’t direct them back into the park
because that’s where they’re trying to get out of and they are stubborn; they just won’t do it after a point
they just stop and they’re not going to go back into the park.
(John) --What about the western part? There seems to be land there.
(Jenny) There’s enough land for currently. You’d have to do something eventually, because they would
increase in number. As bison increase in number they push out, they go to new places. They had some
bison go into Idaho a couple of winters ago. It’s new territory. They never had them over there but they just
start going, they migrate and they figure it out. Usually it’s the big bulls that go first, I don’t know if they
establish a path or the cows smell it out, but they follow a bit later, but you get more bison moving out. The
problem at west is currently they would be fine, they could hand out on Horse Butte. That’s a sizable area,
especially with great winter forage. It melts off first. It’s a great south-facing slope so there’s a lot of area
to hold like, a thousand. They could probably move back and forth between that and the park. Eventually, if
you (00:13) let things go, they’d probably have more. But the idea would be then you could initiate a hunt
and they do have a hunt out there and maybe it would keep the numbers down. They also walk out 287
toward Madison Valley, which would be a great habitat for them. Madison Valley would be awesome for
bison, they should love it. They’re not allowed to go there. It’s a Zone 3. There’s a ranch and the Red
Rocks, maybe you could just fence that in because it’s in a canyon. But the issue becomes where do you
draw the line. Some people argue just let them go. That’s just some thing people deal with if you have
brucellosis, it isn’t that bad? Except the cattle people for economics, it doesn’t really hurt the bison
population, it continues. But if you just let (00:59) them go there are probably other problems. So what if
they don’t have brucellosis, they’re all clean, all the elk, all the bison. What’s the problem?
--Land.
(Jenny) Land is a big one.
--Competition.
(Jenny) Competition for grazing for food. So you get to all these other things. You can also go with how
many bison is too much for Yellowstone? People have done that, they’ve kind of speculated around 2,500
maybe on the Northern Range. This is the new idea. The science is adjusting all the time. What people
thought was detrimental for cattle conditions is alright for wildlife, they feel differently, they move around
more. They even think that central interior could hold 4,000, but that’s good for summer. Winter range is a
different problem. You have plenty in summer for 5,000 bison. It’s winter. If you get a bad winter there’s
not enough land, they walk out. Problem with carrying capacity is maybe there’s too many, maybe we
should knock them back down, because we don’t have enough land.
Human safety…bison and you care are not a good combination. People hit bison in the park every year.
They’re only going 45. If you’re going 70, that’s quite a mess. That happens out west, luckily they pushed
the speed limit down along the main migration corridor, but they still lose a bunch. It is a problem. But if
you had herds of 200 walking down Paradise Valley or out to 90, Interstate 90, that would be quite an ugly
scene, especially if they’re crossing at night. They’re dark. It’s more like why is that black blob there and
then it’s too late. Bison are aggressive. They like that particularly during the rut. You’re a mile away, they
might run at you. If just depends on what mood they’re in. Elk are already a problem with people in your
yards during the rut. Kids get attacked all the time. Bison during the rut, they’re in your front yard, you’re
trying to get to your car and they won’t let you. There are other things to consider why people don’t want
bison out. It’s just another thing you have to deal with. Some people say well that’s why you moved to
Montana. Too bad, they lived here first. So you get both people arguing…hey, live with it. I like seeing
bison in my front yard. I love it. It’s great. There they are. Other people, it’s a hassle and there’s a safety
concern.
Grazing rights is probably the big one though. Saved it for last. A lot of people consider this is not a
biological debate. It’s not a problem. There’s biology and they don’t even listen to some biology it seems.
You tell them some stuff and they’re like okay, sweet…thanks. Don’t tell my boss. It’s economic and
political. Those are the two main driving forces. Who has the power over the land and how are they using it
and who’s benefiting economically. It’s really probably the heart of the issue. Brucellosis is a very nice,
convenient smoke screen which you’ll never get past. You’ll probably never eliminate brucellosis from the
bison or the elk in this area. They’re wild and it’s very hard. I hope they never round them all up and do test
and slaughter, it’s not what I want to see in the park with these bison.
(John) You know there are conflicts over all kinds of things and there have been throughout history on
how assets have been used. For the most part assets used like land has changed as economic incentives
have changed and people buy out other people and it’s not that difficult of a thing to change land usage as
long as markets exist and they’re allowed to work. Part of the trouble I’m having getting a grasp on this is
really determining what the advocates of bison, what their goals are. There’s a spectrum Out at the very far
end are the people who just want bison to roam and go wherever they want and that’s unrealistic, but if you
whack off the 10-5% of the most extreme cases like that what is the real objective for the people who
support bison? Is it the biodiversity and the genetic stuff? I think that’s pretty easily taken care of. Is it the
enjoyment of watching buffalo? What is it really that’s the benefit of expanded bison?
(Jenny) I think it’s a combination of a lot of things for different people in different amounts. I can’t speak
for what the park service wants. The park service would probably be like enjoyment of the bison, people
like the bison; we get thousands of letters from people upset about anything happening to the bison
whatsoever. We’re a public agency. This is what the public seems to want, to let them go. They want to see
them. They have become an aesthetic. We want enough bison in the park that aren’t running away from
humans because the whole point is people can come to Yellowstone and they can see wildlife. It’s right
here. Seeing them outside of the park is another thing that draws people to Montana. You think you would
be able to sell that economically. Some people come here because of the grizzly bears and the wolves and
they’ll probably be coming very soon because you can shoot them. That’s another economic draw. I think a
lot of people want bison because they might become a hunt source, and you do have some hunting
associations trying to push for that, trying to push for bison to be allowed outside the park because they
want to hunt them and they want to build up that economic base. So some people have that agenda because
they want to hunt them. Other people just want to look at them. Other people go on this is a historic icon,
we treated them so badly, just pure morals and ethics we should bring them back and let them go. They
lived here first. Some people are just purely that, that it’s wrong that we should make up for what we did to
them by letting them go and expand their range. There are some people that argue 2,300 are not enough for
genetics and that possibly we have some sub populations within Yellowstone that are even more rare. That
we don’t know exactly what we’re doing yet, that we don’t have enough of a grasp, some people argue
yeah, we’re fine. More science is ongoing. They’re doing more genetic studies.
(John) It seems to me if you took each of those separately that they’re not that hard to solve, but there’s an
attempt to have a policy that will in a sense take care of everything. You could very easily create private
hunting grounds for bison and they would stay within however many acres you would need, I don’t know
all year round, that’s what those would be for and that takes care of these people. Maybe there’s not land
here, but there is west and with the right economic incentives you could create enough land, you’d have
enough buffalo in the park for people who’d want to see them and feed them in the winter for some
combination of extra land that help get there or food brought tin. If you want buffalo in park, okay feed
them some way. You could bring some food in have some land outside the park. I don’t see why that would
be a problem.
(Jenny) First for the hunting, some people they don’t want them in an enclosed area - that’s half the whole
point they don’t like people who hunt in an enclosed area.
(John) Enclosed area – we’re in an enclosed area, we’ve got oceans all around it.
(Jenny) Enclosed area where it’s in a fence where they can’t go somewhere, they couldn’t run for miles
and miles and miles.
(John) Is that the way hunts are now?
(Jenny) I guess what I was thinking was a fenced in area…and they don’t want to have to pay. A tag for a
state hunter is incredibly cheap and you go and find it. Park of the appeal for some people is your on your
own, you have to find it, they might be there, might not. You have to track them.
(Audience) I just do think bison hunting would be that difficult in comparison, you used the comparison
the bear and the wolf, even deer other populations. I mean this is a gigantic animal in a big herd, I mean
from a hunting perspective they’re a pretty easy target.
(Jenny) Okay, I’ll get that one in a second. The feeding - the park service does not want to feed wildlife.
Did that with the bears for a while and learned that’s not good. We do feed some when we hold them at the
boundary, but that’s a whole other issue and some people really don’t like that no holding, you should have
shipped them all. Held them, we didn’t want to ship any more, they were all negative. Held them until there
was enough food for them to come back in, but it’s not a park service policy to feed wildlife. (11:00)
They’re trying to do natural regulation. It’s not completely natural obviously they walk outside the park,
they get shot. They try to let them go in the park. They don’t do anything to help anything. They don’t do
anything to hurt it. Once they’re on their own, they’re on their own. Other thing you don’t want to ever
concentrate wildlife, particularly during a stressful time, especially during the late winter. It’s like the feed
grounds in Jackson Hole, potential to speak more disease, things like that.
(John) Over time a process in which a third of the herd is slaughtered is not going to have less of a genetic
impact on the herd in the long term than feeding them?
(Jenny) The worry would be that you would concentrate them and they would pick up a disease. Like what
they’re really worried about in Jackson Hole is chronic wasting disease and boom you wipe out 90% in a
couple of years and they’re all dead. You’ve basically created the atmosphere for that to happen. They
don’t know if it can move into bison. They’re not sure but if you start to concentrate animals you can get a
lot of disease, you don’t want a diseased population and it might increase the disease. At the moment it’s
like we’re never going to get past this disease and increase it, it would be bad. Let me address her question
real quick. Yes, some people have an ethical problem with the hunting because they do, they stand there.
Bison, their defense strategy is to stand their ground, circle up and you walk up to a bison, you can get 20
yards and shoot it and it falls down and the others stand around and look at it. You can wipe out quite a few
in that way so there’s an ethical problem. Some people don’t consider it fair chase because they don’t run.
They’re Yellowstone bison. They’re used to seeing people walk up a lot. Some people have the idea that if
actually got enough land and didn’t shoot them all when they left, got up enough land and enough bison
where they’d actually stay all year round, that they would get used to their place. And they can move. They
can go five miles. If they’re pretty far it’s hard to take them down. Hopefully people would be very ethical.
You can’t just shoot it as it’s running, you have to shoot it right behind the ear. They do have to take
classes, you must shoot if here. You have to use a certain power of rifle because they are hard to bring
down if you don’t shoot them correctly.
Some hunts in other places, they say if you hunted them for a while maybe they would get used to it and
they’d start to run. We do have some bison on the Northern Range. Typically, you go somewhere where
they’re not used to seeing people off the road and some of them freak out and you’re 500 yards or more.
They take off and there they go for five miles and they disappear. Sometimes they’re in smaller groups,
especially in winter. They go down to ten, maybe 20 bison, they in trees and they disappear. It’s amazing
how they can disappear. They do have some hunts in Utah where they repopulated some bison and their
success rate is 50% so it’s not a guarantee and you’ve got to go find them. If you’ve got enough land and
you to actually walk it would be better. Some people argue that it’s not fair, because there they are, there’s
not a lot of land and you just shoot them. It is a problem with hunting that would need to be addressed.
(Audience) I did have another question about the brucellosis. They can get it from their mothers through
ingesting the milk, which would basically be an antibody so they don’t get the actual disease, but they
would test positive. Those are the ones you’re shipping off to slaughter that if you actually sent them back
into the herd, they’d actually help the problem.
(Jenny) Yeah. It’s a good one, isn’t it?
(Audience) The yearlings and the calves that are testing negative and you’re giving the vaccination to, the
next year when they come out they’re going to test positive.
(Jenny) You can tell the difference with the vaccine. That was one thing why they used this new vaccine is
the old one you couldn’t, so it was like what’s the point? Don’t even do it. You can tell the difference
which is one good step. The other thing people sometimes argue is you’re taking the negatives, which are
still very susceptible, this is where the vaccination comes in, if you just hold negatives and push them back
out, they’re susceptible they can get the disease. You have to provide them some sort of immunity if
you’re just going to hold negatives and get rid of all the positives. That’s where the vaccine comes in, you
give them the vaccine and give them (15:15) some sort of protection, theoretically, the efficacy isn’t great.
We still don’t know much about it. Some of the research animals we vaccinated and they come back out
they just shipped them. We didn’t learn anything from out research animal because they just shipped them.
The sad rub of them are immune and you’re shipping them off because we can’t tell the difference. That’s
the domestic cattle paradigm; that’s how they’re running it.
(Audience) At the rate that they’re testing positive, I would think they all would be eventually, due to just
because being born and nursing their mothers naturally.
(Jenny) Half of them aren’t so you get half and half of those give calves. If they never come into contact
with it, they’ll never get it. The older ones, longer time, more chance for exposure.
(Question) Is it higher among one herd versus another?
(Jenny) Nope. Across the board. We haven’t sampled a lot when we know it’s just the northern versus just
the central. Some of the collars it’s just the same. When they come to the boundaries, it’s where did they
come from? The collars, we know. Some of the collars we say she summers, we say where they come from
based on where they breed like okay, we know she came from the interior and we do track and monitor.
Last week she was down in Old Faithful, now she’s up in Mammoth.
(Question) --The hunting issue. Once they kill it, what do they do with it? That’s a lot of meat. What
happens to it?
(Jenny) It is a lot of meat. They eat it all. Most people hunters of bison, there’s your meat for the year. I
know people who hunt, they don’t ever buy meat. They only use the meat they hunt.
(Question) --These aren’t people just hunting it for the head so they can hang it over their fireplace?
(Jenny) Some people do. You’ve got the mix of hunters. Some people do it just for trophy. Trophy
hunting you’re not allowed to leave the meat; you have to take the meat. It’s for bears…safety for that. The
guts can stay. You dress it out basically. All the meat has to go. The hide and the head of course, they
always go. But some people, this happens especially with big game hunting, they fly in. It’s so expensive to
ship the meat back that they give it to their guide or somebody. They give the meat away, but they have to
take it out of the field.
(Question) --They gut it right there?
(Jenny) They gut it right there, field dress it and quarter it.
(Question) --Not same processing plant as beef?
(Jenny) A lot of people who do hunting like this they do, they do their own or process their own at home or
they take it to a local meat shop.
(Question) --How much do they pay for one of these hunts?
(Jenny) I think it’s $50 for a state resident. I think it’s $750 for out of state and it goes to the State of
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. They help maintain habitat, do research for keeping quotas of how many
can we take and that is what they’re working on right now is the sex ratio. A lot of people you give them a
tag on either sex, they’re going to shoot a bull. They want the giant head and it’s a trophy bull, then you get
the meat. Very few people until you get people who actually hunt regularly for their meat will shoot
younger animals or cows. They want the big head.
(Audience) --Charge them more then. Charge a couple thousand.
(Jenny) Charge them more...could do that. It’s one idea you bring hunting, it’s economic incentive to let
the bison go. When do ranchers with cattle, you say pay me $500, you can come on my land and shoot a
bison and they’re only making (18:59) $300 off their cattle, well fine, okay. You also have to respect that
some people have been doing this for generations. They don’t want to stop. It’s not about the money.
People don’t make a lot of money. You can’t be profitable raising red meat above 5,000 feet, it’s just not
possible. (Question) I heard that today. They’re not in it for the money, they like the lifestyle. They’ve had
these cows for a hundred years; they have a genetic line that they like.
--Especially small ranchers.
(Jenny) Yeah, they don’t want to give it up.
(Question) If it hasn’t been proven that bison aren’t giving it to the cattle, what are they doing about the
elk?
(Jenny) Okay, with the bison and the cattle, there’s never been a documented case of bison actually
transmitting it to cattle and cattle originally gave it to them. They’ve done it under different conditions,
where they’ve put them in a pen together. They’re close. It’s completely possible. They just need to go over
and sniff it or lick it and they have it. It’s not hard. One reason why they haven’t is because of this plan.
Because they never let them mix. Bison and cattle have never mixed so they’re never given the opportunity
to transmit the disease. So in one way you can say there’s never been a case, well that’s a success (20:16)
point because they’ve never mixed. The problem I feel is the onus has all been on the bison. All the bison
have paid for that success and all the cattle have never really paid so that’s kind of a problem that it’s onesided. The elk, yes, nobody really addresses the elk. They just ignore them because that’s a huge economic
income for the state. There’s whole industries with the packers and guide, meat processors everyone. It just
brings so much money into the state from people out of state coming to hunt elk in Montana.
(Question) --Does it cost more to get elk permit?
(Jenny) I don’t know what the elk permit costs.
(Question) -- Does that money also come back?
(Jenny) It goes to Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
(Question) --Don’t the bison bring in just as much or more with tourists?
(Jenny) Some people have made that argument too. They come in. For Yellowstone, it’s great. But
Montana doesn’t really have the tourist base set up yet. That’s one of the arguments, why don’t you set it
up. The issue is you still can’t get past brucellosis. APHIS won’t let them out. It’s unfair. Bison somehow
didn’t get on the boat and got held back. They’re focused on, nothing else is. Elk are allowed to leave.
Some people argue they’re only at 2% prevalence rate. It’s so low they’re less of a risk. Well, there’s a lot
more of them, they actually do mix with cattle. They go down a lot. Some people won’t hunt them on land
because they want them to gather, get sheds, they get guests they want to see them. And the two cases in
Montana, they’re most likely either from cattle, other infected cattle giving it to cattle or elk, so probably
what happened. The elk are in there all the time, same deal (…) Say they don’t have brucellosis, people still
don’t want bison for other reasons…most people we never go past brucellosis because that disease is so
hard to get rid of, we’ll probably never get rid of it. The other issues are there, but people don’t want to talk
about it because it’s so easy to go to brucellosis let’s not talk about that I don’t want to share the grass.
(Question) --The bison don’t over-graze?
(Jenny) Not if they’re allowed to keep moving. Then you get to the issue of…and things do change.
Somebody mentioned you do change property rights. I heard like 50 years ago around here they didn’t like
the elk, they hated when the elk came out because they ate stuff and they jumped over fences, slowly over
time, some people left, more people moved in, more tolerance for elk. It could happen. Hopefully within
my lifetime, maybe not that more people move in, problem develop the land so much, but great they can go
but there’s no land. Bison tend to stay low down in the valleys, especially in summer, but elk, they go up.
Even in winter, they’re up higher. They stay up that’s where they feed, where they forage. Bison tend to
mix more where the people are and the cattle are than the elk. The elk do come down and they’ll go down
through fields. If you hunted them they probably wouldn’t do that very much. I know in some fields in
Paradise Valley where they used to hunt them they didn’t come down as much. Now that they don’t, they
do. So you could change that behavior to help manage that disease even with the elk. It seems bison got an
unfair rap, they’re taking the brunt and the elk are kind of ignored because they’re very economic incentive,
don’t get rid of them.
(Charlie) Do any of the other species of deer – mule deer, black tail and white – can they get brucellosis?
(Jenny) Yeah. Mule deer and white tail deer have it.
(Charlie) --What’s the prevalence?
(Jenny) I don’t know the prevalence on them. They’re all around the 3-8, it’s under 10%.
(Charlie)--Females most prevalent?
(Jenny) It’s not that it’s most prevalent in females, but they’re the ones that can transmit most easily.
(Charlie) Deer are not even part of the conversation?
(Jenny) Not at all.
(Charlie) --Until we just mentioned it right now.
(Jenny) They don’t talk about them because they’re so low. Even if vaccination or test and slaughter
worked and you got rid of it in bison, what’s to prevent them from getting it again?
(Charlie) Every mule deer, every black tail – that’s an impossibility.
(Jenny) Yeah, you’re not going to get rid of the disease. Do a lot of disease modeling now and if you get it
low enough will it eventually disappear. They have some models say yes. Other models say no. The other is
how low is acceptable. IF they’re at 3% is that acceptable, can they then go out, which is our whole goal of
the park service. More tolerance for bison outside of the park because people look at these as Yellowstone
bison, but we have no jurisdiction outside the park so you get together with people who do have jurisdiction
and you try to come up with a communal goal, but we can’t even agree on what would be successful.
*Charlie talks about deer in Arkansas aggressive management and education in terms of this complex
issue, clearly to break away from a stalemate as it were, and maybe this isn’t a classic stalemate, but it
sounds to me as it were getting close to that, you have to come in and do extraordinary things.
(Jenny) Just hunting of cows?
(Charlie) --Could be. Do it by slot limits like with fish. Have over-population with cows…aggressive
education, aggressive management…but it can’t look aggressive.
(Jenny) It’s a hard problem. There’s a lot of aspects. Some are weighed heavier than others, especially by
different agencies. You get biology, economics, social, cultural, political interact to make this. It’s a very
emotional issue. The bison represent a lot of things to a lot of different people. Right now, the current plan
isn’t really working. I think everybody can agree that parts are not working. When you come together with
five agencies you do make concessions. This is not what the park service would really like to see, but it’s
definitely not what the DOL would like to see either. The problem is that they all have a say. There’s also
issues should we bring more people into the mix. The Native Americans want to have more involvement in
this discussion. That’s great, but you now realize it will take longer. A lot of people say it’s going too slow
already. We’ve gotten skimmed by the government.
--
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Bison Ecology and Management Office of Yellowstone National Park