How Ranching and Hunting Shape Protections for Bison and Elk

Both species can carry a much feared disease. But when they wander beyond Yellowstone's boundaries, only one is welcome.

Wild animals do not recognize park borders. Two of Yellowstone’s iconic species, bison and elk, spill seasonally—and naturally—beyond park boundaries looking for food. One is welcome. The other is not.

Two years ago, Yellowstone’s chief scientist Dave Hallac gazed north from a sagebrush-covered rise near Mammoth Hot Springs across the park border into Montana. Musing aloud, he asked:

“What would happen, do you think, if we managed our migratory elk the same way we’re forced to manage bison? What if we chased elk back into the park on horseback to prevent them from leaving? What if we rounded up elk into corrals and sent them to slaughterhouses? What if we allowed pregnant elk mothers to be shot just a few weeks before they were due to give birth? Do you think there would be public outrage?”

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