Stephany Seay

Since the Interagency Bison Management Plan’s last report two weeks ago, close to 75 additional buffalo have been killed by ‘hunters’, while Yellowstone has captured nearly 430 others.

The failures of the state-federal-tribal Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) to “maintain a wild, free-ranging bison population” are astounding as tribes and government agencies continue to kill, capture, and manipulate the country’s last wild, migratory population.

As of the IBMP’s most recent report issued March 31st, 2,318 — 38% — of the wild buffalo of Yellowstone country have been removed from the population. In early November, the population was 6,000 strong, and Yellowstone officials maintain that the park alone can sustain upwards of 11,000. The population today barely hovers at 3,800 individuals.

This is a travesty. There is a gluttony of mismanagement taking place that is driving these herds towards extinction.

State and especially tribal hunts have killed 1,139 buffalo, Yellowstone National Park has consigned 282 to a life of domestication (quarantine), while Yellowstone holds 805 in their Stephens Creek capture facility, more than 400 of whom were captured in the past two weeks.

The park is promising to release these captured buffalo when ground conditions are right, but that remains to be seen. These numbers could be even higher at the time of this release. Winter killed buffalo, which will be significant this year, are not included in these totals.

This is the worst animal genocide since the 1800’s. There is no counting the new baby bison who suffocated when their mamas were shot, and the others who starved to death, and all the winter killed bison. Those precious world-admired bison would have been born to grace our precious ground.

In June 2022, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife issued a notice that they are considering the Yellowstone bison populations for endangered or threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.

As things just keep getting worse with Interagency Bison Management Plan cohorts at the helm, Endangered Species Act listing is one of the best chances the Yellowstone herds have for survival. ESA listing could not come soon enough.

In addition to Yellowstone’s capture-for-slaughter and -quarantine operations, there is a Montana state hunt, as well as ten different tribal nations hunting under treaty right but there could be a dozen more tribes who could decide to participate. How in the world is this buffalo population supposed to survive all these people coming to kill them? How do the tribes and partners with the IBMP plan on working together to sustain a healthy buffalo population?

The so-called hunt that takes place outside Yellowstone, particularly in Gardiner, has drawn strong criticism from the public who view the killing as a slaughter rather than a hunt. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Roam Free Nation have placed seven billboards in Helena, Billings, Livingston, and Belgrade drawing attention to the billboard’s stated fact that, “There is No Hunt. It’s Slaughter!”

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ game wardens have cited people for shooting into elk herds but people are shooting into bison herds as soon as they set one foot into Montana with no consequences.

Bison advocates put a lot of pressure on Yellowstone to release the captured buffalo and feel a huge relief to hear from Yellowstone that they will set free the over 800 buffalo they have in their Stephens Creek capture facility, but there are big concerns about how holding them for so long will impact the dynamics of both the Central and Northern herds.

While in captivity, Central and Northern herds are kept together in ways they would not be in the wild, and they tend to grow strong bonds. Some buffalo may leave one herd for another, which has unknown negative impacts for each herd and the population as a whole. The Central herd who is already imperiled can’t really afford to have herd members leave to join the Northern herd.

Finally, we are barely two weeks away from calving season — if buffalo start to give birth in the hunting trap, just inside Montana, that could spell big trouble, because buffalo are fiercely dedicated to their calving grounds and we do not want them to think of the hunting trap as a calving ground.

Stephany Seay is the cofounder of the Montana-based Roam Free Nation.