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What Do You Mean “Just a Buffalo!?”
“Oh, It’s just another Buffalo,” Anthony said when we finally discovered what was causing the excitement in the cars stopped up ahead.
Really? It only took 36 hours for Yellowstone to ruin my 9-year-old kid?
I had to laugh, but it brought into focus one incredible wildlife success story, and how grateful I am to my colleagues at the National Wildlife Federation for playing such an important part in bringing this amazing species from the brink of extinction to a relatively common sight during our recent visit to Yellowstone.
Giving Bison Room to Roam
In the early 1800s, an estimated 65 million bison roamed throughout the continent of North America. However, hunting and poaching had a devastating effect on the bison population; and by 1890, fewer than 1,000 remained.
Due to federal protections, there were approximately 1,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park by 1954. By 1997, there were approximately 3,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park.
However conflicts with cattle grazing interests have been a long-standing threat to bison and access to their historic grazing lands. Federal officials used slaughter and hazing to confine herds to park property and limit their natural migration for food, killing more than 3,800 bison to prevent conflicts with ranching and cattle interests.
Now, thanks to the work of groups like National Wildlife Federation and a new agreement between federal agencies, several American Indian tribes and five states, the bison of Yellowstone National Park will have more room to roam.
According to the recent 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 NWF’s Tom France. “It is a huge step forward for wildlife conservation in the northern Rockies.”
Paying Ranchers to Turn Land Used for Grazing into Bison Habitat
National Wildlife Federation has successfully fought for decades to change bison management through our Adopt-a-Wildlife-Acre program, which compensates ranchers for retiring their grazing allotments and relocating their livestock. NWF has successfully phased out livestock grazing in key areas around Yellowstone National Park and raised more than $1 million to provide additional habitat.
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.
It’s a lot of work and a difficult task – much like convincing a 9-year-old looking at a herd of hundreds of free-roaming bison that there was once a question of their very existence. Yet sometimes it’s nice to take a moment to silently enjoy a hard-fought policy victory by realizing the power behind simply giving a kid the opportunity to say “just another Buffalo.”