Yellowstone Holds the Fate of the Buffalo in Their Hands

Thirty Percent of the Country’s Last Wild Migratory Buffalo Have Been Removed from the Population


March 20, 2023

circular logo with a buffalo and the text "Roam Free Nation"

Stephany Seay, Cofounder, Roam Free Nation

Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies

GARDINER, MT: On Saturday, March 18th, Yellowstone National Park released the latest report of bison management operations on the Interagency Bison Management Plan website ( The report shows that the slaughter of Yellowstone’s bison continues, including the killing of pregnant females who are just weeks away from giving birth.

As of Saturday, March 18th, 1,814 buffalo have been killed or otherwise removed from the population. That is 30% of the entire population of Yellowstone buffalo, which was at 6,000 in August of last year. Unless Yellowstone takes action now, this will be the most buffalo taken in a season since the deadly slaughters of the late 1800’s.

The firing-line style “hunt” at the boundary of Yellowstone has taken the lives of 1,067 buffalo. At least 349 of these were adult females, and nearly every one of those females will have been pregnant. That’s nearly 349 calves that will never be born.

Jaedin Medicine Elk, cofounder of Roam Free Nation and a Northern Cheyenne tribal member spoke of the hunt and said, “When there’s thirty hunters there from ten different tribes, it turns into a competition to see who can get a buffalo, causing hunters to start firing into family groups hoping they kill a buffalo. It seems the new ‘relationship’ is hunting them to near-extinction because our treaty rights are more important than the well-being of a strong buffalo population.”

Six buffalo heads lay in the grass next to a game sled.
Photo courtesy of Kay Scott Ensley.

The billboards put up by The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Roam Free Nation continue to draw attention to the hunt – there are now six billboards across Montana. Our message: “There is no hunt. It’s slaughter.” will now reach drivers in Helena, Billings, Belgrade, and Livingston.

Yellowstone claims they have no control over what happens to buffalo once they leave they park, and they have been trying to pass the blame for the unprecedented slaughter. But Yellowstone has trapped 781 buffalo at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility inside the park. Of these; 88 were shipped to slaughter (including 70 adult females, most likely pregnant); 282 have been sentenced to a life of domestication in the quarantine program, never to be wild again; and only 34 have been released. Yellowstone continues to hold 374 for “release or slaughter” – so they cannot claim they have no control over their fate.

“At the November Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting, all partners came together talking numbers and making plans for the buffalo, where they mostly fought and argued (Montana Department of Livestock vs. Tribes and Yellowstone National Park),” continued Medicine Elk. “So, rather than coming up with a quota of how many buffalo they wanted to take this year, they didn’t set a number. That is what has caused this scene today with 30% of the population being killed or otherwise eliminated from the wild.”

These dire numbers get even worse when the natural winterkill is taken into account. Yellowstone estimates that 9 out of every 100 adult bison die over the winter on an average year, and with a winter as harsh as this one, those numbers can be expected to rise. Additionally, winterkill buffalo are an extremely important food source for waking grizzly bears, and killing so many buffalo outside the park will greatly decrease that spring sustenance.

Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, raises this issue: “The state of Montana needs to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the impact of this bison slaughter on grizzlies, since winterkill bison carrion are an important food source for grizzlies, especially since grizzlies’ other main food sources, whitebark pine nuts and Yellowstone cutthroat trout have both been decimated.”

This devastating slaughter, combined with natural winterkill, puts the survival and the genetics of both the Central and Northern herds of buffalo in Yellowstone in danger. The “hunt” has been, and continues to be, an irresponsible slaughter that disregards the very survival of the population. The fact that Yellowstone has captured, slaughtered, and consigned to quarantine another huge group of buffalo only compounds the cost to the herds.

Roam Free Nation board member Cindy Rosin asks, “How can those out there doing the bulk of the killing say that they want more buffalo on a larger landscape? How can Yellowstone say the park could host 10,000 plus buffalo while they contribute to removing 30% of the herd? When does it end? When the buffalo are gone?”

Roam Free Nation is a Montana-based wild buffalo, wildlife, and wild lands advocacy group who speaks from and represents the perspective of wild nature. Their representatives have over fifty years of combined experience in the field monitoring wild bison migration, documenting actions against them, and advocating on their behalf. Learn more at