By Ken Cole
MONTANA: Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today to list the Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act. Yellowstone bison are found primarily in Yellowstone National Park and migrate into the jurisdictions of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming where the wildlife species is forcibly removed or destroyed completely. Yellowstone bison are the only extant wildlife population of plains bison that retains its genetic integrity and still freely roams in the United States.
Nearly all plains bison in the United States are private livestock and/or descendants of bison that were commercially interbred with cattle. These hybridized cattle-bison no longer retain their identity as plains bison, or status as a wildlife species in privately owned herds. All privately owned bison are managed as livestock. Nearly all publicly held bison exist in small, isolated populations on restricted and fenced ranges with no predators and subject entirely to human selection.
The best available science presented in the petition shows that the Yellowstone bison are unique, significant, and genetically and behaviorally distinct. For this reason, the Yellowstone bison population is critical to the overall survival and recovery of the species.
“Prompt listing under the Endangered Species Act is required if this last remnant population of plains bison is to survive and recover,” stated Travis Bruner of Western Watersheds Project.
“The extirpation of the unique Yellowstone bison would represent the complete loss of wild bison from the last stronghold of their historic and ecological range, loss of unique ecological adaptations to the local environment, and the loss of valuable and unique genetic qualities.” stated Michael Connor of Western Watersheds Project.
The petition catalogues the many threats that Yellowstone bison face. Specific threats include: extirpation from their range to facilitate livestock grazing, livestock diseases and disease management practices by the government, overutilization, trapping for slaughter, hunting, ecological and genomic extinction due to inadequate management, and climate change.
The Yellowstone bison population is comprised of genetically and behaviorally distinct subpopulations with differing migration patterns. The wild migratory species uses a significant portion of the geothermal habitats in Yellowstone National Park, an unusual ecological adaptation unique to Yellowstone bison.
“The wild bison living in and around Yellowstone National Park are the only bison in America to continuously occupy their native habitat since the days when tens of millions migrated freely across the continent,” said BFC Executive Director Dan Brister. “A listing under the Endangered Species Act is necessary to ensure the survival of this iconic species.”
Policies of the National Park Service and National Forest Service, and state regulatory mechanisms threaten rather than protect the Yellowstone bison and their habitat. Since 2000, the Park has taken over 3,600 bison in capture for slaughter operations. The Forest Service issues livestock grazing permits in bison habitat. State regulatory mechanisms in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming all result in the forced removal or complete destruction of bison migrating beyond Park borders.
The groups have requested the USFWS issue an initial finding on the petition within 90 days as required by the Endangered Species Act.
Once numbering tens of millions, there were fewer than 25 wild bison remaining in the remote interior of Pelican Valley in Yellowstone National Park at the turn of the 20th Century. The 1894 Lacey Act, the first federal law specifically safeguarding bison, protected these few survivors from extinction.
A fact sheet on why wild bison are threatened with extinction is available here.
The petition is available online HERE.