On 3/1/20 the National Park Service announced that the Stephens Creek bison capture facility (the trap) is open for business inside Yellowstone. The trap opened late this year because the bison waited a long time before migrating.
The trap run by the National Park Service is a deadly cog in the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). Two concepts sit at the heart of the plan: migration and social tolerance. Bison--in a race between starvation and spring--migrate out of Yellowstone each winter in search of grass not locked away under ice or snow. The state of 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.
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 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 the herd of 4,900, though that may not happen because the bison stayed in the park longer.
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. No tour was scheduled in 2019 or yet in 2020.) Below are fourteen photos I took during the tours. I've added captions that explain how bison are handled 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 run the bison toward a second pen.
The bison are hazed from the second pen into a long chute that leads to a device with the brand name “The Silencer.” NPS employees use long poles to prod the bison out of the chute and into The Silencer, one at a time.
In addition to a blood draw, each bison is weighed, and its sex, age, and brucellosis status are determined.
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.
Since 1985, 11,716 bison have been captured and sent to slaughter or killed by the firing squad, according to Buffalo Field Campaign. In 2020, 600 to 900 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. In the meantime, this capture and slaughter and hunt will continue.
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-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Montana Department of Livestock
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
TheThe Inter Tribal Buffalo Council
The three 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 8, 2020 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