Tuesday, March 29, 2022


With a bit of sadness and lots of excitement, I'm ending my blog and starting to publish two newsletters.

I posted my first blog--a report on the wolves impacted by the Chernobyl reactor disaster--on November 12, 2013. I posted my last blog--"A Eulogy for a Yellowstone Wolf" on March 24, 2022. 

This has been a long, educational, emotional, and satisfying ride. I thank everyone who visited the blog and especially folks who for years took the time to share their thoughts and reactions to posts. That exchange has always been a main goal for me.

But times change and I believe I've found a better way to reach readers: via two free Substack newsletters: 

Love the Wild is a free weekly newsletter for people who want to warm their hearts and excite their minds by sharing moments with wildlife and in wild lands. No matter where you live or how often you actually get to the wild, each newsletter can rekindle your love for the wild through reading, watching, or listening.

Save the Wild is a free weekly newsletter for people who are concerned about threats to wildlife and wild lands, people interested in speaking for or already speaking for wildlife and wild lands. You’ll find each newsletter to be a trusted source on a conservation issue, particularly for wolves, coyotes, or bison, my favorite Yellowstone neighbors. You’ll find links where you can learn more or discover actions to take. 

I encourage you to join me at one or both of these free weekly newsletters. I want to continue to share with you my love for the wild and my desire to save the wild.

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. 

His award-winning book In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Eulogy for a Yellowstone Wolf

Each year I track Montana’s wolf hunting season and write about the carnage. Much of the killing seems distant, but some of it happens right up the hill from me in what Montana calls Wolf Management Unit 313. I hike and ski and drive in 313—along with lots of other folks and a number of Yellowstone wolves that pass through. Sixteen park wolves have been killed this season in 313. But that’s just a number. Each one of those wolves was an intelligent, sentient being with a family. 

What, I wondered, is this senseless hunt like to a wolf caught in the sights of a wolf killer in 313? That question generated this eulogy as I imagined a wolf who lived all year in Yellowstone and then wandered into 313.


I imagine a young male wolf, a member of a pack that roams over Mt. Everts and the Rescue Creek plateau along the northern border of Yellowstone. Of course, he doesn’t know these places by those names. He just knows them as his home where he hunts and plays and sleeps.

He was born two and half years ago. He’s as big as he’s going to get and pretty experienced. He has helped his family bring down elk. He knows how to work as a team member. He knows his place among his family, knows who he can challenge and who he can’t.

Standing on the slope of Mt. Everts, he looks at the sky and senses his world changing from warm to cool to cold. The days are a little shorter; the nights a little longer. The days are cooler; the nights colder. He feels his fur changing, growing thicker, helping him keep warm. 

The elk have changed too. They are well fed and strong and fast and harder to bring down. But his mother and father know how to select one that’s injured or slow or old. Once they find it, the pack works together to separate it from the other elk, bring it down, and eat. He likes chasing away those big black birds that come to steal from his family. He has chased some of them since he first came out of the den.

But it’s not just the days and the elk that are changing; something is changing inside him. He sometimes looks toward the distant mountains and feels an urge to head there, to leave the only place he has called home. He feels a longing to find a wolf—a female—that is not a member of his family. He feels a need to have pups in the den, to bring food to those pups as his father did for him. He wants a family of his own, a territory of his own.

And so one day, as the first snow falls—just a dusting that melts on his fur—he nuzzles his family members one last time and begins his solo journey. He decides to go in the direction his sister went during the last change from warm to cool to cold. He remembers the day she left. He chased after her until she turned, put her ears back, and nipped at him. He ran back a bit with his tail between his legs. He knew not to challenge her. He watched her walk away and hasn’t seen her since. No one has.

Not long after leaving his family, not long after they are out of sight, he sees and smells and hears a couple of those two-legged creatures that roam this land. Those two-leggeds seem to run in packs much larger than his. They appear out of those noisy, smelly dens that move so fast, that come and go. He has watched the two-leggeds step out and look in the direction of his family, then reach into their den and bring out what looks like branches and set them up. They put their eye to what looks like a little log and point it at him and his family. Then the two-leggeds just stand there as the sun moves across the sky and he naps or plays with his brothers and sisters. The two-leggeds seem strange, but they don’t harm him, never have. 

As he walks past the two-leggeds and toward the mountains, his stomach growls. He wonders if he will find an elk that he can bring down alone. If not, then he’ll find rabbits or squirrels or leftovers from the meals of other wolves. He’ll watch the sky for those big black birds; they know where food is. This land is full of food and he’s young and strong and determined. 

He will travel as far as necessary. He’ll stop occasionally to sniff the air and the ground, seeking the scent of another wolf seeking a mate. He’ll raise his nose toward the sky and call out. He’ll listen for a reply. Maybe his sister will reply. If he hears nothing, smells no scents, he’ll move on. He has to; he knows that he must keep going.

He trots on until he spots another two-legged ahead. He stops and stares at the two-legged who is pointing what looks like a stick at him. He senses no danger; those two-leggeds have never hurt him or his family before. 

He turns his head to look at the sky and the mountain. Then he sniffs the air, the ground. Nothing. As he turns to look at the two-legged again, he feels a terrible pain in his side. He tries to run but his legs buckle. His nose slams against the ground. He struggles to breathe. As the world grows dark, he sees the two-legged crouched over and walking slowly toward him, that stick pointing at him. He closes his eyes. He thinks of his mother and father, sisters and brothers. He lets out one last painful breath.


His journey is over.


If you would like to see wolves protected on their journeys, here's a way to make your voice heard.

You can also join a Wolf Protectors Group.

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. 

His award-winning book In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon

You can also join Rick in his latest writing adventure, a free weekly letter to subscribers entitled Love the Wild. You’ll find excerpts from his books, podcasts, photo essays, opinion pieces, and more. All aim to excite your mind and warm your heart.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Protecting Western Wolves: UPDATE #5

In this update, I’ll start with the status of wolves in Yellowstone and Montana since wolf hunting season ended here on March 15. I’ll also describe efforts to protect wolves in other Northern Rockies states. But first a bit of background.

In February, a federal judge’s decision put wolves in the Lower 48—except those in the Northern Rockies—back under protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Five months earlier, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the 2,000 or so wolves in the Northern Rockies may need a return to ESA protection because new laws in Montana and Idaho promote such widespread wolf killing. While agreeing to begin a twelve-month study of the need for protection, the agency declined to restore protection on an emergency basis. So wolves have been and will be hunted and trapped while the FWS ponders. 

In Montana this year, 270 wolves were killed according to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s website. In Idaho, 512 wolves were killed in 2021, according to The International Wildlife Coexistence Network. That organization is filing a public records request to obtain information about the number of wolves killed in 2022. 

Killing Yellowstone Wolves in Montana

Yellowstone wolves that follow elk and other food out of the park can be shot once they step paw across an invisible border. Remember that most of these wolves were born and raised in a park where hunting is not allowed and humans don’t represent danger. This makes them an easy target. To make matters worse, new Montana and Idaho legislation pays a bounty for wolf killing and allows previously outlawed killing methods, including snaring, baiting, and night hunting.

According to records provided by Yellowstone National Park, twenty-five park wolves have been killed this hunting season. Four were killed in Wyoming and two in Idaho. Nineteen were killed in Montana, sixteen of them in Wolf Management Unit 313 and three in WMU 316. Both of these units adjoin the park’s northern border. 

The killing of Yellowstone wolves began early in Montana's wolf hunting season when two female pups and a female yearling from the Junction Butte Pack were killed in 316 in September. The killing in 313 and 316 eventually eradicated the Phantom Lake pack; their territory overlapped the Yellowstone and Montana border.

The Response by Yellowstone National Park

Shortly after the Junction Butte deaths, Yellowstone superintendent Cam Sholly spoke up for park wolves in a press release, “These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe." Sholly added, "We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.”

The quotas Sholly refers to existed for over a decade and limited the number of wolves that could be taken in 313 and 316. In last year's hunting season, for example, the quota was one wolf in each of the two units. But Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voluntarily abolished that quota and watched the carnage soar. Instead of just two wolves that would have died under a quota system, at least nineteen additional wolves were killed in those two units.  

The Response from Montana

While the slaughter persisted and protests arose, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) pretended they had no data about the number of Yellowstone wolves killed. As the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported: “Greg Lemon, a spokesperson for FWP, said the department does not distinguish between Yellowstone and Montana wolves when collecting harvesting data, so it cannot confirm the numbers.” 

As Yellowstone lost more wolves, Sholly wrote a letter on December 16 to Greg Gianforte, Montana's governor. He gave the governor data on how Yellowstone wolves were being disproportionately impacted. He explained that FWP records shows that in Region 3 (where 313 and 316 are located) wolves were not having a negative impact on elk or livestock. He asked Gianforte to stop the hunting and trapping in 313 and 316. 

Unfortunately, Sholly was writing to
a hunter and trapper known for killing Yellowstone animals, especially if they're collared. Last year Gianforte shot a collared Yellowstone wolf (Wolf 1155) that had been caught in his trap. Prior to setting that trap, Gianforte had not taken the required trapper education course. For this infraction, he received a slap on the wrist from his underlings at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Just this month Gianforte was in the news again for shooting another collared Yellowstone animal. This time it was a mountain lion (Cougar M220) that was trapped and defenseless in a tree that hounds had chased it into. That killing was on the same ranch where Gianforte had shot Wolf 1155. 

Given Gianforte's fondness for killing Yellowstone animals, it was not surprising that he didn't address Sholly’s written request to stop the killing in 313 and 316. Instead, he wrote, "Once a wolf exits the park and enters lands in the State of Montana it may be harvested pursuant to regulations established by the (state wildlife) Commission under Montana Law." Gianforte didn't mention that he had handpicked six of the seven commissioners who control the killing of wolves and mountain lions and other wildlife.

On January 28, weeks after Sholly wrote to Gianforte, the Fish and Wildlife Commission finally met to decide if wolf hunting should be stopped in Region 3. Many people, including myself, attended that meeting virtually. By the meeting’s end, I was more concerned about Montana’s wolf management than I was when the meeting began. With mistakes in math, with a disregard of public opinion, with going beyond the agreed upon threshold, and with making a serious mistake regarding regulations, FWP is not competently managing wolves. Instead, FWP has become a tool for Montana’s governor, legislature, and Fish and Wildlife Commission to use in their war against wolves. (I explained my concerns further in a second open letter to Interior Secretary Haaland.)

Two Different Realities

Montana’s reality: a wolf is worth more dead than alive. Selling licenses to shoot or trap wolves brings FWP hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Yellowstone’s reality: wolves are worth more alive than dead. As Sholly wrote in his letter to Gianforte: "The positive economic impacts of visitors viewing wolves in Yellowstone is estimated to be well over $30 million annually, much of which is spent in local Montana communities and counties.”

According to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife watchers outspent hunters by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1 in 2016. So the spending by people who come to see Yellowstone's wolves alive must far exceed the spending of the smaller number of hunters and trappers who want to see wolves dead. 

While wolf watchers outnumber wolf killers, a small number of hunters and trappers can wreak havoc. New Montana rules allow each trapper to take up to ten wolves. That’s in addition to the up to ten wolves that each hunter can take. One person that hunts and traps could take up to twenty wolves in a season.

Efforts to Protect Western Wolves

Of course, wolves throughout the West are at risk along with Yellowstone wolves, and there have been many efforts to protect western wolves. Here are a few. 

Last October, twenty-one U.S. senators sent a letter that asked Interior Secretary Haaland to shield wolves from being killed for 240 days while permanent protection was considered by FWS. The ESA allows Haaland to authorize an emergency relisting if she determines a species faces a significant threat. 

Last December, a bipartisan group of 78 members of Congress sent another letter urging Haaland to consider an emergency relisting. That letter notes that more than 800 scientists have called on the Biden Administration to take immediate action against laws in various states that threaten gray wolves and ignore science.

In January, a coalition of conservation groups asked the National Park Service Director to work with Haaland to issue an emergency relisting.

In February, Representative DeFazio and two other members of Congress wrote to Haaland urging her to issue an emergency relisting. They reminded her that dozens of House members had already made this request in July and December 2021.

Numerous Tribal nations have also called for emergency relisting of wolves. Tribal leaders have asked to meet with Haaland to discuss wolf management. As Tom Rodgers, president of the Global Indigenous Council, said, “The problem is the FWS and its antiquated culture when it comes to the management of the wolf. We requested a follow up meeting to address FWS with the Secretary of Interior in the room.” But repeated efforts did not bring Haaland into the room. 

Unfortunately, all the letters and petitions, emails and phone calls, by senators, members of Congress, Native Americans, and many conservation organizations did not elicit a response from Haaland until, finally, on February 7 she wrote an op-ed. Her words sounded good but she took no action to stop the killing of wolves in the Northern Rockies. (Secretary Haaland is good with words but short on action for wolves, as I described in my first letter to her.)

Threats in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming

While FWS ponders and Haaland does nothing,
Idaho continues its long-standing and state-sponsored campaign to kill as many wolves as possible as quickly as possible. Wolf hunting season is year-round on private land and some public land. There is not a daily or season limit on the number of wolves taken. And Idaho resists revealing to the public the actual number of wolves killed. 

In Wyoming, there is a small area—about 15% of the state—just outside Yellowstone and the Tetons where wolf hunting is regulated. In that area, 29 wolves were killed in the season that ended December 31. In the remaining 85% of the state, wolves are considered vermin to be killed by anyone, at anytime, in any way. It's hard to say how many wolves die in Wyoming.

In Montana, the governor and his Fish and Wildlife Commission ignored Yellowstone's plea to set meaningful restrictions on the killing of park wolves that cross an invisible line. The killing continued until, thankfully, wolf hunting season ended.

Now we have to wait for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Secretary of the Interior Haaland to protect western wolves in the Northern Rockies. And while we wait, wolves die.

If you would like to see western wolves protected, here's a way to make your voice heard.

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. 

His award-winning book In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon

You can also join Rick in his latest writing adventure, a free weekly letter to subscribers entitled Love the Wild. You’ll find excerpts from his books, podcasts, photo essays, opinion pieces, and more. All aim to excite your mind and warm your heart.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Transferring Yellowstone Bison to Tribal Lands

Last week's photo essay revealed how bison are captured and handled at Stephens Creek. The photos and stories generated a lot of angry comments about shipping our national mammal to slaughter. There is a life-saving alternative to ship-to-slaughter, and this week I want to focus on the growing Yellowstone Bison Conservation Transfer Program (BCTP).

This program moves captured bison through a multi-year quarantine process with the goal of eventually certifying them as brucellosis free and then transferring them to Tribal lands. The bison in the photo above was an early transfer stepping onto Tribal lands. In addition to keeping bison alive, transferring them to Native Americans also helps return bison to their important place in Tribal cultures. Bison have a cultural and spiritual significance with at least thirty Native American Tribes.

The BCTP Today 

The transfer of Yellowstone bison in particular is important because the park’s 5,000 or so bison are genetically pure wild bison. While there are around 500,000 bison across the U.S., almost all are domestic livestock. Most live behind fences and many of those bison have been bred with cattle. They are no longer genetically pure or wild.  

The transfer process begins at Yellowstone National Park’s bison capture facility at Stephens Creek near the park’s northern border. This is also where bison are captured for the ship-to-slaughter program. The BCTP is a partnership between the park, Fort Peck Tribes, InterTribal Buffalo Council, and the State of Montana. It receives some financial support from non-profits such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Yellowstone Forever. 

The park reports on their website that since 2019, 154 bison have been transferred from Yellowstone to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Of those 154 bison, 82 were subsequently transferred to the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) and then given to 17 member Tribes. (The ITBC website reports that the council has 69 member Tribes from 19 different states.) 

The park’s website also reports 95 bison quarantined in the Stephens Creek facilities with 28 of them to be transferred to Fort Peck this winter. The park intends to bring 80 to 120 new bison into the transfer program this winter.

While the number of bison transferred so far is small, there is no shortage of Tribes that want bison. Demand is not the limiting factor, supply is. Shana Drimal, a wildlife conservation associate with Greater Yellowstone Coalition, presented a recent bison webinar. She addressed the supply issue and said that the pinch point has been the time that it takes to get bison through the certification process. “How," she asked, "do we get more of them diverted from slaughter" and to the Tribes?

The Expanded BCTP 

More bison will soon be transferred to the Tribes. Last year, a fund raising program by Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Yellowstone Forever, and Yellowstone National Park raised a million dollars. The Associated Press reports that the funds will pay for fencing to divide an existing pen in half and to build two new pens. Each pen requires double fencing so that bison inside a pen cannot make nose-to-nose contact with bison outside a pen. Removing such physical contact is one way to reduce the spread of brucellosis. Water infrastructure will also be improved and a corral used for testing the bison will be built. The expansion has begun and should be completed by early 2022.

The new pens will double capacity to about 200 bison and boost transfers to Fort Peck each year from about 30 bison to 100. With more bison transferred, fewer will be slaughtered.

State and Federal Laws Limit the BCTP

The Fort Peck Tribes could do the entire quarantine process at the state-of-the-art facility they built several years ago in northeastern Montana. They could quarantine 600 bison there. But, state and federal laws stop them from doing so. 

Montana law prohibits the transfer of live bison to new areas unless they are first certified as brucellosis-free. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) won’t allow the full quarantine process to be conducted at Fort Peck, despite having approved the facilities. “The agency," the Associated Press reports, "wants to contain brucellosis as much as possible to the Yellowstone area, despite the fact that free-roaming elk also carry the disease.” 

How the Transfer Works

Given Montana’s restrictive legislation and APHIS limits, the quarantine process must begin in Yellowstone. Here's how it works. The bison are captured and tested at Stephens Creek during winter when they leave the park’s higher elevations in search of less snow and more grass. The number of bison captured depends on the number that migrate past the capture facility. That number varies widely. So far this winter, for example, few bison have migrated past Stephens Creek and few have been captured. In other winters hundreds have been captured. 

Once captured, the bison are kept at or near Stephens Creek and repeatedly tested until they complete the first two phases of quarantine and are considered brucellosis free. At that point, Montana law allows them to be shipped. Male bison take up to one and a half years to complete the process; females take three years. Once the bison arrive at Fort Peck, they are quarantined for yet another year until they are certified as having completed a  third phase. Then some of those bison are transferred to other Tribal lands. 

Here’s how one Tribal transfer worked, according to a Defenders of Wildlife press release. Last December, Fort Peck Tribes, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, and Defenders of Wildlife facilitated the transfer of 56 Yellowstone bison from Fort Peck to the lands of the Yakama Nation in Washington and the Modoc Nation in Oklahoma. Each tribe received a family of 28 bison. That transfer marked the first time two large intact families of bison were transferred under the BCTP. 


“These buffalo will go to tribes that are beginning their cultural herds,” said Robbie Magnan, director of Fort Peck’s Fish and Game Department. “Like Fort Peck and many other tribes, the Yakama and Modoc will once again have buffalo for their Indian communities and traditions.”

The Importance of Yellowstone Bison

The importance of these transferred bison to Tribal nations was explained by Troy Heinert, executive director of InterTribal Buffalo Council, when he was interviewed by NPR’s Scott Simon last December.

Heinert told Simon that ITBC wants to restore Yellowstone’s bison to Tribal nations because of their pristine genetics. “Yellowstone buffalo,” Heinert said, “are the cornerstone of the species. They are the last free-roaming wild buffalo that go back to the same buffalo that our ancestors followed and made their life from.” 

He added that there is also the “the spiritual and cultural connection that we have to those buffalo” “Buffalo was our main food source, it was shelter. It was tools, weapons. But it was also more about learning. Our young men watched buffalo and saw how the males protect the cows and calves.” He added, “We view the buffalo as a relative and we try to treat them as such.”

When Simon asked Heinert why so few bison can be transferred to the Tribes, he acknowledged that the limiting factor is the size of the Stephens Creek facility. He said that ITBC is working with congressional representatives and the park managers to enlarge the facility and allow for the capture and relocation of more bison because the ITBC wants to see fewer bison shipped to slaughter. “We know that we have tribes that can take care of these animals. So it is kind of difficult when some of these animals are culled.” He added that his organization wants “to get as many live buffalo to as many tribal nations as we can.”

Rick Lamplugh writes and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands.

His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed

His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.

Photo of bison arriving at Fort Peck by NPS

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

An Inside Look at Capturing Yellowstone's Bison

In mid-February the Stephens Creek bison capture facility (the trap) opened for business inside Yellowstone. The National Park Service runs the trap--a deadly cog in the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). 

Two concepts sit at the heart of that plan: migration and social tolerance. Bison--in a race between starvation and spring--migrate out of Yellowstone and into Montana each winter in search of grass not locked away under ice or snow. But the Montana has no tolerance for bison outside the park near Gardiner and West Yellowstone. State officials claim this is because some bison are infected with brucellosis that can be transmitted to cattle. But there has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to cattle. On the other hoof, wild elk have transmitted brucellosis to cattle numerous times and Montana has survived.

This unfounded fear of brucellosis was one factor leading to the creation of the IBMP—a court-ordered coalition of federal and state agencies and some Native American tribes. The IBMP calls for the capture of bison at Stephens Creek and for their shipment to slaughter in Montana. It also calls for a hunt (a firing squad, really) just outside the park to further reduce Yellowstone's bison population. This winter the IBMP goal is to remove 600-900 bison from Yellowstone's herd.

Along with members of the media and conservation organizations, I toured the Stephens Creek facility in the winter of 2016 and 2017 when bison were in the trap. The 2018 tour was cancelled due to security concerns. Unfortunately, no tours have been scheduled since then. I publish this post each year the trap is open so that what goes on inside is not a secret.

Below are photos I took during the tours. I've added captions that explain how bison are handled once captured at Stephens Creek. 

Processing began as NPS employees on horseback rode into the pen that holds captured bison. During the tours we observed the shipping of some bison and the processing for later shipment of more.

Shouting, whistling, and waving their hands, horseback riders ran the bison toward a second pen.

The bison were hazed from the second pen into a long chute that leads to a device with the brand name “The Silencer.” NPS employees used long poles to prod the bison out of the chute and into The Silencer, one at a time. 

The Silencer performs a number of functions. In this photo, a park bison biologist waiting to work stands to the left of the machine, while a supervisor on the catwalk makes sure the machine is ready for bison. (As of 2017, NPS had painted over The Silencer brand name on the equipment.)

We watched many bison go through The Silencer. They bucked and kicked and grunted, the whites of their frightened eyes obvious. Once a bison is in The Silencer, an operator slides levers that slowly moves the sides of the machine inward, squeezing the animal and holding it in place. Once the bison is still, a bar pushes the animal’s head to the side and holds it there so the biologist can draw a blood sample. The large needle used to draw blood is in the biologist's right hand in the photo. 

In addition to a blood draw, each bison was weighed, and its sex, age, and brucellosis status was determined. 

An employee showed us the blood samples. We were told that an NPS bison biologist analyzes the samples at a small lab at Stephens Creek. A positive test result means that a bison has been exposed to brucellosis, but does not necessarily mean that the bison can transmit the disease. Test results, say NPS officials, are not used to determine which animals are shipped to slaughter. Instead, they use them to understand the disease status of the population and to identify a few animals that are appropriate for brucellosis research studies.

After release from The Silencer, bison were directed to various holding pens, depending on age and sex. In the photo, female bison are seen through a small hole in one of the sheets of plywood that cover the fence of the holding pens. NPS officials said that if bison can't see past the plywood, can’t see an escape route, they stay calmer. 

These captured calves--born the previous spring--were waiting to be shipped to slaughter. This view is from a catwalk above the holding pens. An armed law enforcement ranger accompanied each of us when it was our turn to observe from the catwalk. 

About eight employees work on the catwalks. They open and close gates and keep bison moving. Four other employees draw blood and gather data at The Silencer. Workers often communicate with silent hand signals.

Once a bison has been processed and assigned a number by a tag placed on its back, it's ready to be shipped. The blood on this bison is either from an injury to this animal or from rubbing against another injured bison.

A trailer from a Native American tribe backed up to the loading gate, and the door of the trailer was opened. Bison were released from the holding pen and hazed down a chute. NPS employees prodded the animals with long poles from above to make them step through the open door of the trailer. 

In this photo, sixteen bison were in one of these trailers and fourteen in the other. Once the bison were loaded, the trailer was sealed. The trailers left together, followed by a Montana Department of Livestock law enforcement officer in a DOL truck. The officer was armed and ready to shoot the bison in case there was an accident and a bison escapes or was injured. We were told this procedure is required by the state of Montana. 

Since 1985, more than 12,500 bison have been captured and sent to slaughter or killed by the firing squad, according to Buffalo Field Campaign. During this bison season, 600 to 900 more could be killed. 

The original bison management plan requires this capture and slaughter and hunt. In 2016, an NPS spokesperson told us that they have outgrown the old plan. In 2017, a different spokesperson said that it could be up to ten years before a new plan is in place. 

Early this year, the NPS said they want to evaluate bison management based on new scientific information and changed circumstances. They want to explore ways to reduce bison being sent to slaughter, while continuing to work closely with Tribal Nations and agency partners in bison management. In the meantime, this capture and slaughter and hunt will continue.

Since 1952 the image of a bison has appeared on the arrowhead patch—the official emblem—worn by NPS employees. In the time I spent touring Stephens Creek, I heard numerous NPS employees state that they do not want to be sending these genetically pure bison to slaughter. They added, however, that they are required to do so by the IBMP. I was also told that the Montana Department of Livestock wants a quicker return from Yellowstone's current population of around 5,000 bison to the IBMP target of 3,000. To reach this target population, of course, even more bison--our national mammal--must be killed. 

controls the shooting, capture, and slaughter of 
Yellowstone bison our national mammal.

This court-ordered coalition is composed of eight members:

National Park Service
USDA-Forest Service
USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Montana Department of Livestock
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council
The Nez Perce Tribe

The two annual IBMP meetings are open to the public.
If you want to speak for bison,
public comment is allowed at each meeting.
Next meeting: April 13, 2022 in Bozeman, MT.

Rick Lamplugh writes and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands.

His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed

His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.

All photos by Rick Lamplugh