Yellowstone Bison Poised to Get ‘Endangered Species Protection’ From the Fed?

Photo by Vincent Ledvina on Unsplash

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has issued a preliminary finding in the efforts of conservation groups to have the Yellowstone Bison listed as an endangered species, saying that those pushing the play have offered “substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted.”

As a result, the group will have 12 months to do an in-depth review and go on a fact-finding mission that will involve “requesting scientific and commercial data and other information regarding the Yellowstone bison and factors that may affect its status” to determine whether or not they deserve that special status and all the protections that come with it.

The arguments from the conservation groups are compelling. Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign, among others, say that the 5500 or so bison that inhabit Yellowstone are not one big herd, but rather two “distinct population segments.” Because a herd needs between 2000-3000 animals to prevent genetic inbreeding, the fact that the two groups seem to be divided- one herd of 4100 and the other 1400, the latter does not have enough genetic diversity to avoid mutations and therefore is a threat to their long-term survival.

Critics of the plan say it’s not so simple and there are other mitigating factors, including the fact that these herds frequently intermingle, as they travel in and out of Yellowstone and spread brucellosis to cattle, and the case for two distinct herds is not there. They are also concerned about the ability to properly maintain the population. The animals need to be carefully watched and their numbers kept in check, and that is best done by the state government with a targeted and uniquely tailored plan. Late last year officials agreed to cull between 600-900 Bison from the herds, which would help stabilize the herd, prevent disease, and would rebound during the next calving.

While conservationist groups are loving the plan, Governor Gianforte is less than thrilled, expressing frustration at the possibility that they might be declared endangered. His office Spokesperson Brooke Stroyke MFP in an email:

The recovery of the bison in the West is an outstanding conservation success story. Unfortunately, lawsuit-prone special interest groups are seeking to upend years of diligent coordination and cooperative management. The State of Montana will participate in the 12-month review process, working to ensure that the best available science is considered.”


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