Montanans and Bison Successfully Share the Land

NRDC has long worked with our partners in the Yellowstone National Park region to protect the area’s bison, proving that residents can successfully coexist with this iconic American animal.

This is a transcript of the video.

KARRIE TAGGART, resident of Horse Butte, Montana: When I first moved here, they were not welcome here; the bison were not allowed to wander.

I moved up here full-time in 2002. To describe the first time I saw bison here, that's kind of hard because it's such a profound feeling! As soon as you start seeing the calves, it's just amazing.

MATT SKOGLUND, director, Northern Rockies office, NRDC: Bison are pushed right to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s, and the bison in Yellowstone National Park are the only continuously wild bison population we have in the United States, and there are currently about 4,000 to 4,500 bison in the park.

In late winter, early spring, when the park's covered in snow, bison will leave the park, walk to lower elevations in search of green grass. The main reason bison have been prevented from roaming freely outside the park is over disease concerns between bison and domestic livestock.

ED ARNETT: So far, bison have not spread the disease to cattle, but elk, which freely roam outside the park, have been linked to such outbreaks.

SKOGLUND: Therefore, they were pushed and hazed back into the park using ATVs, trucks, horses, helicopters.

TAGGART: It was excruciating to watch them push those animals. There was no…compassion. When we started learning why they were hazing them, it got me angry; it got most of everybody here pretty upset because it was a waste of a lot of taxpayer dollars, human hours. We just started recognizing that we needed to say something as a community.

NEWS ANCHOR: Montana's governor will allow wild bison to roam in portions of Montana, north and west of Yellowstone National Park.

SKOGLUND: In December of 2015, Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, made a great decision to expand the year-round habitat that is now available to Yellowstone bison. It came down to common sense and science, with this being a cattle-free peninsula, there are no disease concerns.

Bison now come and go as they choose. NRDC and a few of our partner groups started a fencing-reimbursement program, and it's been a huge win-win for bison and for people.

TAGGART: I eat my breakfast with the bison a lot. After that fence was put up, I was sitting out there eating my bowl of Cap'n Crunch. I'm crunching when I'm hearing them crunching and noticing that they were getting down by the fence line really close, thinking this is great, I don't even need to mow the lawn.

It's important they roam free—it's what they do. They were here before us.

SKOGLUND: The coexisting fencing program has been a huge success, but there's still more work to be done. We'd love to see wild bison occupy and start using more of the expanded habitat zone. Some of these areas where there are no disease concerns, and you know, it would be great to see wild bison in there.

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