Bison Conservation and Transfer Program

Project Overview

The goal of the Bison Conservation and Transfer Program is to rehome Yellowstone-origin bison to Native American Tribes and support the ecological and cultural conservation of this iconic species. This program reconnects bison and Tribes, reduces the number of animals that are slaughtered, and preserves the unique genetic makeup of Yellowstone bison by introducing them into other bison herds.

History & Highlights

In the early 1900s, there were only about two dozen Yellowstone bison. These icons of the American West were brought back from the brink of extinction. Decades in the making, the Bison Conservation and Transfer Program is a collaborative conservation effort. In August 2019, Yellowstone National Park moved 55 bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana. It was the first direct relocation of Yellowstone bison to a new home as an alternative to slaughter. The Bison Conservation and Transfer Program has been overwhelmingly successful, transferring the largest number of Yellowstone bison to Tribes in history. Since 2019, a total of 414 Yellowstone bison have been transferred to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes at Fort Peck. Nearly all of those bison and their offspring have then been further distributed to 26 Tribes across 12 states in partnership with the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

However, before bison can be transferred to land outside Yellowstone, they must be quarantined and repeatedly tested for the disease brucellosis for one to three years. Yellowstone Forever was an integral partner in funding the recent expansion of the Yellowstone bison quarantine facility. Today, the facilities within Yellowstone can hold up to 200 animals annually and support the transfer of up to 100 bison to Tribes each year. Continued success of the Bison Conservation and Transfer Program requires ongoing financial support for animal husbandry, disease testing, and education and outreach.

During the summer of 2020, 40 bull bison completed the final phase of quarantine at Fort Peck and were transferred to 16 different tribes across the country, including to states as far reaching as Kansas, Wisconsin and Alaska, as part of efforts to build and restore bison herds on these tribal lands.

Yellowstone National 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, and in January 2021 a large family group of 50 bison were transferred to Fort Peck for the final phase of testing. In January 2023, 112 bison were transferred to Fort Peck in Poplar, MT. Most recently, another 116 bison were transferred to Fort Peck in early February 2024. The Bison Conservation Transfer Program continues to make history, having relocated the largest number of live Yellowstone bison to American Indian Tribes in the world.

“I longed for that time when Tatanka Sicun, Buffalo Spirit as ancestor, mingled with mine…then yesterday it came…it came in the form of trucks and trailers carrying sacred beings into the realm of our higher plains…”

— Lois Red Elk, member, Fort Peck Sioux

The Bison Conservation and Transfer Program aims to:

  • Rehome bison in family groups to Native American Tribes to establish or expand other Tribal bison herds;
  • Enhance engagement by offering training and involving Tribes in all aspects of bison testing and stewardship;
  • Support education and outreach by offering internships for Native American students to work alongside Yellowstone National Park staff in caring, handling, and testing bison held within the park facility, studying wild bison in the park, and gaining real-world experience in conserving wild, healthy bison herds and monitoring for sustainable habitat. Student interns bring back skills to their Tribes to support bison conservation on Tribal lands;
  • Collect data to improve testing procedures and shorten testing timelines;
  • Improve public awareness and support.

How You Can Help

Yellowstone preserves the most important bison herd in the United States. We envision a future where wild bison are restored to tribal lands and other conservation areas across the West—a future where Yellowstone bison roam freely outside the park boundary without large-scale slaughter and hazing operations.

Substantial work remains to build capacity for the program to ensure more bison can be transferred to tribal lands and other conservation areas. You can make a difference by supporting this project.

Your gift will play a critical role in preserving the Yellowstone bison, expanding bison herds across the country, supporting education and outreach and helping Tribes recover an important part of their culture and heritage.

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