It was quite a sight: Eric Wandishin, gathering elk antlers on the Dome Mountain Ranch near Yellowstone National Park noticed a wild bull bison wandering just outside the boundaries—a spot known as an elk harvesting ground but much farther north than bison usually roam. Wandishin snapped a photo to show ranch owner J.B. Kylap, whose land it was.
But about a month after Wandishin’s March 3 sighting, the majestic beast was dead—shot by Montana officials for its transgression outside the park. Moreover, it was left lying where it fell.
“It was really exciting, and the buffalo was just enjoying life outside the park,” Kylap said, impressed that the animal had managed to make its way up the steep mountains, past man-made barriers and onto his property.
But not everyone was excited. Word got out about the bison that had somehow managed to slip past the buffer zone that borders Yellowstone. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park officials asked Kylap if they could haze the animal off of his private property and onto public land. When it became clear that they intended to shoot it, Kylap refused. However, a little over a month later the bison left Kylap’s ranch of its own accord and entered the adjacent Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area.
“As soon as the government found out the bison left, they sent in two Department of Livestock agents—both carrying high-powered rifles—and one FWP official, and a Yellowstone National Park Ranger after it,” said Stephanie Seay of the Buffalo Field Campaign, which advocates for the rights of free-roaming wild bison.
Field campaign member Mike Mease watched as the agency representatives rode out to their intended kill on horseback. On April 12 the bison was shot and simply left to rot.
“They had no doubt they were going to leave him there,” Mease said. “There’s no way they could’ve gotten him back out. They draw these ridiculous lines, and if [buffalo] dare to cross over them onto National forests or public lands, they have no tolerance for them and kill them all.”
The Interagency Bison Management Plan, a cooperation between federal and state agencies, holds that bison venturing outside the park's buffer zone can be killed to protect people from injury, property from damage and livestock from disease, according to the Billings Gazette.
Once they cross the line there’s no tolerance,” said Christian McKay, an executive officer of the Montana Board of Livestock. “We don’t want that memory going back into the herd."
Kylap called the decision by state officials disappointing and said it reveals much about the way certain factions view wildlife in Montana. Just the day before the shooting, the Republican-controlled Montana House of Representatives had passed Republican State Senator John Brenden’s so-called anti-bison bill, legislation that blocks the transport of wild bison that leave the park to Indian reservations where they are more than welcome. The bill also allows a zero-tolerance kill policy for bison that enter public lands in Montana.
“He was supposed to be on a wildlife refuge for animals—just not for bison, I guess,” Kylap said. “Why did they have to kill a bull bison when he was miles away from anyone and wasn’t endangering anyone?”
Brenden favors harsh anti-bison measures and believes the animals should be eliminated from Montana’s public landscape.
“Buffalo have their place in the world, but it isn’t going back to the 1850s,” he said in February. “It’s no different than the dinosaurs. We’re living in a modern world, whether we like it or not. We don’t need free-roaming buffalo.”
“This bull was enjoying himself on his own four feet,” Seay said. “We should be celebrating that instead of murdering him.”