A group of buffalo is seen in the distance behind a fenceline. A sign reads "Slip & Slide Ranch".
The last wild buffalo do not belong behind ranchers’ fences.

Simply put, quarantine is a livestock “management” tool. In 2005 and 2006, state and federal governments initiated a Quarantine Feasibility Study which was strongly opposed by wild bison advocates. During the study, hundreds of wild buffalo calves and their families were rounded up in traps and tested for brucellosis, a cattle disease that wild buffalo have never transmitted to livestock.

A young buffalo looks at the camera through the chains locking a wooden gate closed.

All of the buffalo, except for hundreds of the calves, were shipped to slaughter. The orphaned calves were trucked to a state and federal quarantine facility where they grew up without elders in a life of domestication, tested and tormented by scientists, fed hay, ear-tagged, and forced to live in small pastures surrounded by double-electric fence.

Through the years of testing and manipulation, many of these buffalo were slaughtered and others died due to human handling. Those who survived the ordeal would never be wild again, but would be doomed to a life of domestication, severed from their wild communities and relationship with the land.

The Quarantine Feasibility Study was a completely unnecessary manipulation of wild buffalo that turned out to be an immense failure. The lofty promise of the Quarantine Feasibility Study, to “restore wild buffalo” on public and tribal lands, was never realized. The buffalo or the offspring of the buffalo who emerged from quarantine ended up as either the private property of billionaire Ted Turner, serving his commercial ranching interests, or as ranched buffalo in tribal herds, living the rest of their lives behind fences. At Ft. Peck, numerous buffalo died from a fire because they could not escape their enclosure, and nearly half of Ft. Belknap’s herd died from dehydration when a pump broke and they couldn’t get past the fences to find water.  

Proponents of quarantine wrongly suggest that this is the only way that bison will be restored to public and tribal lands. Every winter and spring, the wild, migratory buffalo of Yellowstone tell us otherwise: every step they take is an act of restoration. The Yellowstone herds — our country’s last continuously wild populations — face death, domestication, or life in prison. These tools of the dominant culture are the so-called choices the government offers, and it is our responsibility as advocates of the wild to reject them. Wild is the only way. Our charge is not to try to improve upon these oppressive systems, but to dismantle them altogether.  

Goodshield Aguilar, of the Oglala Lakota and Yaqi nations, responding to one zoo proponent, said it best:

I have been involved with this issue for 15 years. The sugar coating is what most will see, but to know the “cattle politics” and corrupt tribal involvement that goes against the majority of the Native population is a different story. Put it this way, instead of buffalo, imagine they are Indians (because we actually are one and the same); there is all this land where they can thrive freely, to migrate, populate, fix the ecosystem and bring our culture back, BUT there is a cage in New York that might be a better habitat??? How is that restoration? It’s a reservation / concentration camp. Would you like to be taken from your home with all the abundance you could ever want, only to be forced to live in a small office cubical? Would that be “living?” Would that be “freedom?” Buffalo are not just animals… they are our relatives and need to be free and wild. They are not house cats or birds to be put into a cage. Just know that the vast majority of traditional plains tribes DO NOT support these decisions. Even our tribal politics have never been free of the same corruption as anywhere else on the planet.”

Sadly, today, Yellowstone has approved a 50-year quarantine plan that they have given the green-wash name, “Bison Conservation Transfer Program.” Yellowstone works closely with the tribes of Ft. Peck as well as the InterTribal Buffalo Council to carry out this tool of the oppressor. The next fight in the struggle for wild buffalo will be countering their efforts to make quarantine and domestication seem like an acceptable solution. We have a saying here at Roam Free Nation: Migration corridors, not quarantine!

Wild is the Way ~ Roam Free!

Read about the other tools of buffalo mismanagement.