Organization Working to Create Yellowstone Bison Refuge to Increase Herds

The nonprofit arm of Yellowstone National Park is working to create a refuge and transfer area for bison to avoid potential slaughter or hazing operations.

Ellen Fike

March 15, 20212 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The nonprofit arm of Yellowstone National Park is working to expand a refuge and transfer area for bison to protect them from potential slaughter or hazing operations.

Yellowstone Forever is attempting to raise $250,000 by June to create the refuge area, which would allow Yellowstone National Park to increase the number of bison it is able to quarantine and make eligible for transfer.

Yellowstone quarantines bison to make sure they are free of brucellosis, a disease that can be transmitted to cattle and cause heifers to abort thier calves.

Bison without the disease are to be used to establish new tribal and conservation herds across North America through the foundation’s Bison Conservation and Transfer Program.

The program is designed to protect the bison, support the culture and economy of Native Americans and preserve the unique Yellowstone bison genome.

Yellowstone’s facility for quarantining bison and ensuring they are disease-free is currently at capacity. The park is unable to take in any more bison this coming winter.

The expansion of Yellowstone’s quarantine facility will increase the percentage of quarantine-eligible bison that can enter the program, the foundation said.

Currently, about 75% of bison eligible to be placed in the quarantine program are sent to slaughter due to lack of space. The expansion will reduce that number to 35%.

Capacity will increase from 100 animals entering the program to 250 animals over three-year intervals and the number of bison transferred to new areas each year will increase on average from 30 to 80 animals. 

By 2023 this could result in almost 400 wild Yellowstone bison being diverted from slaughter. By 2024 these bison will be ready for transport to other tribal or conservation herds.

Since the program began in 2016, 104 Yellowstone bison have been certified brucellosis-free and transferred to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to complete assurance testing.

The park diverted an additional 105 bison from slaughter in March 2020 by placing them in the limited capacity facilities in and just outside the park.

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Ellen Fike