Restoring Our National Mammal: Wild Bison in Yellowstone

After years of work by the National Wildlife Federation and other groups, Montana Governor Steve Bullock has decided to allow bison to roam freely on thousands of acres around Yellowstone National Park.

Prior to the Governor’s decision, bison migrating out of Yellowstone in the winter were either hazed back into the Park or killed. Governor Bullock’s decision will not only allow for winter migrations, but also allow bison onto national forest lands adjacent to Yellowstone on a year-round basis.


Bison roaming. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Esther Gonzalez

Although the wild bison population has recovered slightly, more work is needed. Today, only a small percentage of bison are considered wild and free-roaming.

“Gov. Bullock’s decision effectively adapts Montana’s bison management to reflect the changing reality on the ground — a reality that argues for treating bison as wildlife, not as a threat to livestock that must be repelled.”

– Tom France, the National Wildlife Federation’s Missoula-based Regional Executive Director

To continue the progress in bison restoration, the National Wildlife Federation is working on the following measures:

  1. Bison

    Bison. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Kathy Reeves

    Negotiate with ranchers. NWF has been a leader in negotiating with ranchers who own grazing rights on national forest lands to set up “conflict free zones” around Yellowstone where bison and cattle do not mix and where bison can graze without coming in conflict with livestock.
  2. Collaborate with native American tribes to establish bison herds on tribal lands. In partnership with the tribes, other conservation organizations and the State of Montana, Yellowstone bison have been used to establish herds on both the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian Reservations.
  3. Find more opportunities to restore wild bison to other lands. NWF’s top priority is restoring a wild bison herd to the one million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Montana.

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