Yellowstone Bison Gain Ground in Montana

About 60 genetically pure bison return home to the Great Plains

Watch Defenders’ mini-documentary on the bison
translocation from Emmy Award-winning producer
High Plains Films. Part 1, view part 2 below.

Part 2
On March 19, 2012, about 60 genetically pure bison were relocated from a quarantine facility outside Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana. The long-awaited move marks the historic homecoming of wild bison to an important part of their historic range on the Great Plains.

Defenders has been a long-time proponent of restoring Yellowstone bison to their historic home on the Great Plains, and the Native American tribes at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian reservations were some of the first to offer their land for the return of bison. We helped advocate in the state legislature and before the state wildlife commission to get the bison moved out of the quarantine facility near Yellowstone to tribal lands. We also helped the tribes pay for fencing, purchase additional grazing allotments, and transport the bison 500 miles to their new home.


“This is a significant milestone for the restoration of genetically pure bison and a critical step forward for returning these animals to parts of their historic range across the Great Plains,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rocky Mountain representative for Defenders of Wildlife.“These are the most genetically important bison in the United States and should not be killed needlessly, especially when there is plenty of suitable habitat available.”

Bison Need More Room to Roam

Bison, © Ted Wood / The Story Group

Donate Now to Save Bison

Yellowstone National Park is home to approximately 3,500 wild bison, but we must find more places for bison to roam in order to adequately restore the species. Biologists estimate that reversing the “ecological extinction” of wild bison will require several more herds of at least 1,000 bison each, and at least a few herds of at least 10,000 bison. A quarantine program was started in 2007 to ensure that disease-free Yellowstone bison were available to start new, genetically pure bison herds. Relocating bison to key parts of their historic range is an essential part of Defenders long-term vision for bison conservation in the Great Plains.

Back Home on the Range

An estimated 20 to 30 million bison once roamed our nation’s vast prairies from the Appalachians to the Rockies, from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska. Though we’re not likely to see wild herds on that scale any time soon, there are plenty of places where it makes sense to restore smaller herds to the landscape. Defenders will continue working with Native American tribes and willing partners with state and federal wildlife agencies to bring bison back to the Great Plains and revitalize our prairies.

Learn More

Historic decision to return genetically pure bison to tribes paves way for conservation (12/09/2011)

Wild bison from Yellowstone stampede into Fort Peck (03/21/2012)

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