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How Many Bison Are In Yellowstone? Complete Population Breakdown

Last Updated on February 15, 2024 by Amin Tawar

How Many Bison Are In Yellowstone

As of 2024, the exact number of bison in Yellowstone National Park is unknown. However, we can give you an estimate about the population based on recent numbers and information:

  • Recent Range: According to the National Park Service, the bison population in Yellowstone has ranged from 3,000 to nearly 6,000 in recent years. This includes two primary breeding herds: northern and central.
  • Latest Estimate: The NPS website doesn’t provide a specific date for their estimate, but the last information available states that the population is “high confidence 6,000”.

Therefore, based on the available information, we can confidently say that there are around 6,000 bison in Yellowstone National Park, with a possible range of 3,000 to almost 6,000 individuals.

Yellowstone Bison Population By Year

Finding accurate Bison population in Yellowstone is quite difficult as there are no solid database. But here I’ve given an approximate bison population data in Yellowstone:

YearApprox. Bison Population

How many Bison Are Killed by Wolves in Yellowstone?

While wolves do prey on bison in Yellowstone, they are not their primary target. Here’s what we know:

Elk vs. Bison:

  • Wolves primarily hunt elk, which are much more abundant than bison in Yellowstone. Elk make up the vast majority of their prey, around 90% in winter and 10-15% in summer.
  • Bison are more formidable prey for wolves due to their size and strength.

Impact on Bison:

  • Bison kills by wolves are less frequent than elk kills. For example, in 2020, wolves killed 28 bison compared to 98 elk. This represents roughly 17% of their total kills.
  • Wolves mainly target calves and cows, making those groups more vulnerable.
  • The number of bison killed by wolves can vary year-to-year depending on various factors, like bison health, population size, and wolf pack dynamics.

Who owns the Bison in Yellowstone?

The ownership of bison in Yellowstone National Park is a complex issue with no simple answer. It’s important to understand several key points:

Public Land:

  • Yellowstone National Park is public land owned and managed by the National Park Service (NPS), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

No Individual Ownership:

  • Unlike domesticated animals owned by individuals or companies, bison within the park boundaries are not owned by any single entity. They are considered wildlife managed by the NPS for the benefit of the entire public.

Tribal Considerations:

  • Several Tribes have cultural and legal connections to bison, and some manage their own bison herds. Some have agreements with the NPS regarding collaborative management or bison transfers.

Interagency Management:

  • Due to the bison’s tendency to wander outside park boundaries, managing their population involves cooperation between various agencies and stakeholders, including the NPS, state wildlife agencies, and Tribal entities. The Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) outlines this cooperative approach.

Legal Complexities:

  • The legal status of bison ownership outside the park is complex and depends on specific circumstances. It may involve state ownership, Tribal ownership, or private ownership on designated lands.

Why are Bison important to Yellowstone?

Bison hold immense importance to Yellowstone for several interconnected reasons, encompassing ecological, cultural, and historical significance:

Ecological Importance:

  • Keystone Species: Bison act as keystone herbivores, shaping the entire ecosystem through their grazing habits. They create diverse habitats by grazing in patches, promoting plant growth and diversity. This diversity creates food and shelter for various species, from insects and birds to wolves and bears.
  • Natural Disturbance: Their grazing and wallowing create disturbances in the landscape, mimicking natural processes like fire and flooding. This disturbance prevents habitats from becoming stagnant and promotes regeneration, ensuring a healthy and dynamic ecosystem.
  • Nutrient Cycling: Bison disperse essential nutrients across the landscape through their grazing and waste, enriching the soil and supporting plant growth.

Cultural Importance:

  • Symbolic Figure: Bison hold deep cultural significance for many Tribes historically and currently. They represent strength, resilience, and spiritual connection to the land. Their return to Yellowstone signifies cultural restoration and healing.
  • Economic Impact: Bison contribute to the local economy through tourism and cultural activities. Observing them in their natural habitat attracts visitors and supports local communities.

Historical Importance:

  • Lost and Reintroduced: Bison were nearly driven to extinction in the late 19th century through unsustainable hunting practices. Their reintroduction to Yellowstone in the 20th century represents a remarkable conservation success story and symbolizes ecological restoration.
  • Living Link to the Past: Their presence connects us to the historical landscape and reminds us of the importance of conserving species and biodiversity.

Overall, bison are integral to Yellowstone’s ecological health, cultural heritage, and historical narrative. Their presence contributes to a vibrant and interconnected ecosystem, honors cultural traditions, and celebrates a successful conservation effort.

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