Bison Conservation and Transfer Program

Bison Conservation and Transfer Program

Why this work matters

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.

Listen to the story of the first live bison transfer in Yellowstone National Park’s Telemetry Podcast, supported by Yellowstone Forever through a generous grant from Canon U.S.A.

What needs to be done

Our goal is to raise $250,000 by June 2021 so that Yellowstone National Park can increase the number of bison it is able to quarantine and make eligible for transfer.

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.

Yellowstone Forever is partnering with Yellowstone National Park and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition to raise the total amount needed for infrastructure expansions to more than double the capacity of Yellowstone’s quarantine facility.

Video: Cam Sholly/NPS

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 250 animals over 3-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.

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.

Video: Jacob Frank/NPS

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.


Learn more about the modern conservation of the bison in Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society. Buy here.

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.

  • First calf of the year
Get the latest updates on the Bison Conservation and Transfer Program directly from Yellowstone National Park’s biologists.

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