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Conservation. At What Cost?

Conservation. At what cost?





  1. the action of conserving something, in particular.
    • preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.


In July, at the International Bison Conference, a new mission was unveiled: Bison 1 Million; 1 million bison in North America by 2027, a scant 1-2% of the bison herd that roamed our continent 200 years ago. Never-the-less, with the current bison herd sitting at approximately 400,000 head and growth rate of about 6% annually, that’s an audacious goal. 1 million bison would be an incredible feat and a big win for our national mammal.


As with any audacious goal into uncharted territory, a myriad of hurdles and unforeseen challenges await. The vast majority of the growth opportunity for bison is through the efforts of private ranchers. The private ranching of bison is an industry and bison are handled and raised for their meat, much like beef cattle. This concept can muster up a sense of domestication or molestation of our most iconic beast, however, without the process of raising bison to ultimately sell the meat, bison have no business on private ranches. If bison have no economic value, bison ranches revert back to cattle ranches because the bank doesn’t care how the bills get paid. As more people eat bison, bison territory expands.  


Our highly publicized, “naturalist” settings such as state and national parks are currently at or above their maximum holding capacity for bison. In order for these herds to grow healthily, more land needs to be designated for bison. In order for more land to be earmarked for bison, the bison need to pay their way. Like it or not, nothing is insulated from the world of economics.


Using Yellowstone as an example, the bison in the park, and drifters on the fringes of the park, are a political hot-button. The politics involved have gridlocked the park’s ability to make necessary management decisions. Now, as a result, Yellowstone bison are overpopulated, damaging their landscapes that sustain them by continuous grazing and overbrowsing yet there is no mechanism to keep populations in healthy balance with the land’s ability to produce and sustain. If the bison were able to be sold and transported from the park, more lands could benefit from the transplanted bison herds and the Yellowstone herd would have healthy, ample forage once again. Another option for Yellowstone herd management would be to handle bison as wild elk are currently where landowners that incidentally host these rogue bison herds are allotted harvest tags for 5-10% of the population base by which the ranchers have the ability to legally harvest bison with the tags or sell them to hunters desiring to fill his or her freezer with high quality protein. One could take it a step further and sell a completely outfitted hunt with lodging, meals, horses, guiding and processing. The bison would now provide local cattle ranchers, currently scorning the bison for ruining their crops and fences with no return, an avenue to an additional revenue stream by which to keep their ranches operating profitably. The drifting bison of Yellowstone transition from brucellosis-transmitting, fence-wreckers to majestic, revered and protected profit centers. To drive the point home further yet, elk carry brucellosis far more readily than bison and destroy equally as many fences and hay stacks yet no rancher will ever complain about elk because a single elk hunt is worth upwards of 5 digits. Today, elk hunting across the west is big business. And elk herds are rapidly expanding.


Truth is, public bison herds need to be hunted and private bison need to be harvested. Without this economic element, bison have no economic value to hold their position over competing profit centers. A quote referring to working to save endangered species says,

“Anything of economic value will not soon be forgotten.”


Much like freedom, the cost of conservation is the sacrifice of a precious few to preserve the greater good for the many.


Eat bison. AndBison 1 Million becomes history.   


Live well this week,

Sean & the Northstar Tribe



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