June 17 -- With recommendations to inform the development of a new Yellowstone-Area Bison Conservation Plan, the National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, and Wildlife Conservation Society today released a report, The Future of Yellowstone Bison Management. The report coincides with the ongoing effort by the National Park Service, State of Montana, and other federal and tribal collaborating agencies to develop a new management plan for bison in and around Yellowstone National Park.


“Bison are icons of the Yellowstone landscape,” said Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Unfortunately, the Yellowstone herd is at times treated less like revered wildlife and more like livestock. With the Centennial of the National Park Service on the horizon in 2016, we need a new plan that sets the right course for Yellowstone bison management. It is time to utilize the best available science and develop a new path forward for one of America’s most iconic species.”


“Having been brought back from the brink of extinction, bison are recognized as the first American conservation success story,” said Wildlife Conservation Society Bison Program Coordinator Keith Aune. But that story is still being written. Most bison today exist in production herds. But over time, we have learned a great deal about living with bison as wildlife and how to co-exist with the species. It’s time to incorporate those lessons into our planning and into our thinking.”


The Yellowstone-Area Bison Conservation Plan is being developed to replace the outdated Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) which was finalized in 2000. Much has changed on-the-ground since the IBMP was originally developed. Notably, there have been no known transmissions of the disease brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to cattle in the wild. Changes on the landscape beyond Yellowstone’s boundary in Montana have made conflict-free year-round habitat available for bison. Utilizing this habitat today would allow bison to be treated like other Yellowstone wildlife on the landscape.    


“We have an opportunity to chart a new future for Yellowstone’s bison,” said Kit Fischer, Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation.  “Along with conservation partners and area ranchers, we have nearly eliminated conflict involving bison and livestock on public lands adjacent to Yellowstone.  Now we hope that bison will soon be welcomed onto public lands and managed as the valued wildlife they are.” 


Top policy recommendations outlined by the National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, and Wildlife Conservation Society in the report include:


Provide More Room to Roam: Currently, when bison leave Yellowstone National Park each winter in search of food, they are only allowed on limited adjacent land and then pushed back into the park each spring. The organizations urge that the new plan more closely examines park-adjacent public land in Montana as potential year-round bison habitat. 


Treat Bison Like Other Wildlife: While there have been zero instances of brucellosis transmission between Yellowstone bison and cattle, fear of transmission has served as justification for ongoing intensive management efforts, including shipping park bison to slaughter, when bison migrate into Montana. Based on what we know about the likelihood of disease transmission today, bison should be treated more like other Yellowstone wildlife on the landscape. 


Decrease the Slaughter: Under the current management plan, Yellowstone bison are often rounded up and shipped to slaughter. This winter, more than 600 bison were removed from the Yellowstone herd in this manner. Managing bison with methods similar to other wildlife on expanded park-adjacent habitat in Montana will reduce or eliminate the need to ship the animals to slaughter.


The National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, and Wildlife Conservation Society are urging the Bison Management Plan leaders to finalize the document by the end of 2016 – also the centennial year of the National Park System.


Find The Future of Yellowstone Bison Management report and related brochure and infographic at www.npca.org.bison.