Winter is the time bison start migrating out of the snowy, high-elevation habitat that makes up most of Yellowstone National Park. In past years, these huge beasts have been met at park borders by government agents who either kill them, place them in pens or attempt to herd them back into the park with helicopters and snowmobiles. They do this because ranchers fear bison will compete with livestock for forage and bring diseases which cows might contract.
But thanks to the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution project – and thanks to those of you who support this work—bison are now finding secure winter habitat when they leave the Yellowstone. NWF has been instrumental in creating safe havens for bison outside the park. We achieve this by offering ranchers payment in exchange for retiring their livestock grazing privileges.
But just this week another threat to Yellowstone’s bison emerged, this time from Montana’s state legislature, where a bill has been introduced that would allow bison to be shot on sight when they leave the park. It only demonstrates that the same mentality that resulted in the slaughter of American’s bison over 150 years ago is still alive and well in some quarters.
The National Wildlife Federation continues to actively seek out opportunities for resolving conflicts between livestock and wildlife both in the area around Yellowstone National Park and within the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in northeastern Montana.
We have negotiated grazing retirements on more than 600,000 acres around Yellowstone Park, and have developed agreements with ranchers on more than 55,000 acres within the CMR. In the Yellowstone Park area, these retirements have been pivotal in resolving conflicts between large predators and cattle. Previously these problems were addressed by killing or relocating wolves and grizzly bears. Our Yellowstone retirements also provide bison with crucial winter range outside of the park, eliminating the perceived need for government agents to kill bison when they go beyond park boundaries.
Our CMR grazing retirements are setting the stage for bison restoration to this 1.1 million-acre refuge, which contains some of the best remaining prairie habitat in the United States. In the meanwhile, they benefit other prairie species such as sage grouse, pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) believes the 1.1 million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in north-central Montana contains not only the best potential bison habitat in Montana, but anywhere in the United States. NWF's efforts to develop agreements with ranchers to refrain from grazing cattle on the refuge are a key piece of creating the available habitat for this wild-ranging species.
In June, 2012, Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks began a process to evaluate the prospect of restoring a wild bison population to their native prairie habitat. Public response was unprecedented. Read more about this recent story here. During the 60-day comment period the state received nearly 23,000 comments. This is higher response than for recent proposals regarding wolves and grizzly bears (no small feat!).
In addition to Yellowstone National Park, your gifts to our Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre program enable us to pursue historically significant conservation projects at incomparable wild places like CMR; a landscape and ecosystem that when fully restored has the potential of becoming the “American Serengeti.”
The National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-An-Acre Project reached an important milestone this past year when we passed the 600,000 mark for the number of “conflict” acres retired. That’s an area more than twice the size of Grand Teton National Park!
This project started in 2002 and has grown steadily since. An early project objective was grizzly bear conservation, as grizzly bear/livestock conflicts on public land grazing allotments adjacent to Yellowstone National Park were causing the killing or relocation of significant numbers of bears. One of the worst problem areas was the west side of the Teton Range, where grizzlies were constantly in conflict with domestic sheep. NWF has successfully retired all of the sheep allotments in this area, providing bears with tens of thousands of acres of secure habitat.
Another focal point of Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre has been providing winter range for bison that leave Yellowstone Park in harsh winters. Because of fears about disease transmittal, bison were killed by the hundreds when they left the park. But key NWF retirements of livestock allotments near Gardiner and West Yellowstone (Montana) have created room for bison to roam.
The National Wildlife Federation’s latest grazing retirement to benefit wildlife is the 22,000-acre Willow Creek allotment, located on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming.
Willow Creek is an important wintering ground for elk, moose and mule deer and in recent years, has provided habitat for grizzly bears and wolves. Its steep, forested slopes lead to congregation of livestock along the major streams in the area, which has resulted in diminished vegetation along the waterways as well as increased sedimentation. State and federal agencies have voiced concern for the native cutthroat trout populations that inhabit Willow Creek and other streams in the allotment.
Like all NWF grazing retirements, this agreement was reached voluntarily with a willing seller, resolving a long-term wildlife/livestock conflict.
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