Bison Conservation and Transfer Program
Envisioning a future
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. Working with partners, including Yellowstone National Park, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, tribal nations, and others to expand the Yellowstone Bison Conservation and Transfer Program is a significant step toward realizing this vision.
The Bison Conservation and Transfer Program contributes to the conservation and restoration of the species to portions of its native range on tribal lands and other conservation areas. The program aims to avoid slaughtering hundreds of Yellowstone bison, support the culture and economy of Native Americans and preserve the unique Yellowstone bison genome.
What needs to be done
Yellowstone Forever, in partnership with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, raised $500,000 for the program in early 2021 thanks to the generous support of our members. That amount was matched by a federal grant, resulting in $1 million for the program.
Thanks to your support the park is able to increase the quarantine facility to include five 10-acre pens each capable of holding 40 animals. These improvements will increase capacity of the program from 80 to 200 animals over 3-year intervals.
Ground was broken on these new facilities in August 2021. The project is set to be completed in September 2022. Upgrades include improving the water delivery system, installing new water troughs, building nearly 18,000 linear feet of fence, and constructing a state-of-art handling facility to test animals for brucellosis.
The work done so far will increase intake during winter 2021/2022 by 100% (40 to 80 animals). Over the next four years, these improvements will increase intake by 250% (80 to 280 animals).
Time is of the essence—Yellowstone’s current facility for quarantining bison and ensuring they are disease-free is currently at capacity. The park is unable to take in and divert from slaughter any more bison this coming winter.
Your support has been vital to protecting Yellowstone’s bison so far, and more help is needed. Continued support for this program will fund internships for Native American students to work alongside National Park Service (NPS) staff in caring for, handling, and testing bison held within the park’s quarantine facilities. Student interns will learn valuable skills that they can bring back to their tribes to support the completion of the brucellosis quarantine process of bison transferred from Yellowstone.
What we will accomplish
The expansion of Yellowstone’s quarantine facility will increase the percentage of quarantine-eligible bison that can enter the program. 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 280 animals over the next 4 years 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.
The donations provided by Yellowstone Forever’s supporters and other donors will also fund additional water infrastructure at the facility, which is necessary to support the new pens. The expansion will also include a low-stress testing corral to support the increased testing that comes with more animals.
History of the program
The Bison Conservation and Transfer Program began in 2016 as a conservation effort to:
- Avoid slaughtering hundreds of Yellowstone bison
- Contribute to the conservation and restoration of the species to portions of its native range on tribal lands and other conservation areas
- Support the culture and economy of Native Americans
- Preserve the unique Yellowstone bison genome
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. In addition, 5 graduates of the quarantine program were transferred from Fort Peck to the Wind River Indian Reservation in 2019 to supplement a small herd.
Through the quarantine process, Yellowstone bison without the disease brucellosis can be identified and used to establish new tribal and conservation herds across North America. Brucellosis is a nonnative bacterial disease that was first identified in Yellowstone bison in the early 1900s.
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 will be ready for transfer to Fort Peck for the final phase of testing. While this is a good start, substantial work remains to build capacity for the program to ensure more bison are able to avoid slaughter and be transferred to tribal lands and other conservation areas. You can make a difference by supporting this project.