Dean M. Chriss
American Bison or Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park

American Bison, Yellowstone National Park

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The American bison is the largest land animal found in North America. They can stand up to six feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 2000 pounds. While they may look slow and lethargic, they can run at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.

In 1860 there were 30 million bison in the United States. Native Americans depended on these bison for their food, clothing, and shelter. Over the next 20 years as the western United States was being settled, it became government policy to slaughter bison so that Native Americans would not be able to survive. In that short period of time, all but a few hundred bison were slaughtered. Yellowstone was among the last places in the country to harbor a viable herd, and it later played a large role in the stabilization and recovery of the population. Today there are about 2500 bison in the Yellowstone herd.

Ironically, the fate of the bison in Yellowstone is uncertain today due to conflicts with the livestock industry. In the winter of 1996-1997, over 1100 wild bison were killed by the Montana Department of Livestock as they left Yellowstone National Park in search of warmth and food at lower elevations. This policy of killing bison when they leave the park has continued in a somewhat modified form since that time. Fewer bison have been shot in subsequent years because the winters have been less severe and there are fewer bison. There are numerous articles about this subject on the internet. One group, the Buffalo Field Campaign, is devoted to stopping the slaughter of Yellowstone Bison.