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New Podcast Threshold Explores Yellowstone Bison Debate

Threshold, a new podcast and public radio show, explores the fraught debate over Yellowstone bison and their place in America.

Specifically, Threshold looks at the veritable knot of stakeholders (ranging from Native American tribes to environmentalists to state/federal officials to ranchers) who are all drawn into conflict over our national mammal.

According to a Threshold press release, the program was inspired, in part, by this year’s bison operations under the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

As you’ll recall, IBMP agencies hoped to cull 900 to 1,300 from the Yellowstone herd this winter. As of writing, over 1,200 bison have been hunted and slaughtered this winter.

Further, plans to amend the now 17-year-old bison plan have been stuck in seemingly endless negotiations; although agencies and tribes have floated ways to get out of the IBMP quagmire, they’re likely stuck for the near future on how to switch gears and move forward.

Mobility is the core of the Yellowstone bison debate. Proponents (including Yellowstone National Park, environmentalists, advocacy groups such as the Buffalo Field Campaign, and tribes) want to see bison expand out of the park and for Yellowstone to play less of a role in maintaining the population i.e. cutting back on corral operations at Stephens Creek. Opponents (ranchers, livestock growers, and select Montana residents, as well as groups like the Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Stockgrowers Association) would prefer bison stay in Yellowstone—at a greatly reduced herd count.

The issue of brucellosis, a disease that has ranchers’ teeth on edge, further complicates the debate. Not only does brucellosis cause cattle to abort their young, it also means a rancher must quarantine their entire herd until it’s deemed brucellosis-free—or liquidate it entirely, which is costly.

For many years, bison have been the poster child of brucellosis paranoia; the IBMP in 2000 arose out of a lawsuit filed by Montana against Yellowstone National Park after bison started roaming north out of the Park. There have been no documented cases of brucellosis transmission between bison and cattle however, and a growing body of research shows elk are far more likely to transmit the disease to cattle.

Beyond brucellosis, some oppose free-roaming bison out of concerns for safety. Hardly a year passes in Yellowstone National Park without someone being gored by a bull or cow because they got too close—inadvertently or otherwise.

Threshold tackles this contentious topic by sharing testimonials from all manner of people from across the country—who all bring unique concerns to this unique, wooly mammal. From the press release:

“When you start out talking about bison, you end up talking about America,” said producer Amy Martin. “I think that’s why this show is striking a chord with people who may not have had much previous exposure to the issues surrounding this animal.”

Before Europeans arrived, over 50 million wild bison roamed North America. In 1901, there were just 23, protected inside Yellowstone National Park. Now, wild bison are once again at a threshold. We’ve saved them from extinction, and we celebrate them on everything from currency, to craft beers, to football jerseys. But we haven’t provided enough habitat for them to truly make a comeback. And we haven’t decided if we’re actually ready to coexist with them, or at what scale.

One of the goals of Threshold is to give people on all sides of a controversial issue a chance to be heard, and to engage listeners in helping to craft solutions to stubborn problems. In Season One — Oh Give Me A Home — listeners will be introduced to people fighting to restore bison, and those who feel deeply threatened by the possibility of their return. We’ll hear from ranchers, bison advocates, scholars, government officials, and indigenous activists like Ervin Carlson, from the Blackfeet Nation. “I love going to battle for these animals.” said Carlson. “And for us, for our culture.”

Threshold premiered on Montana Public Radio in February and is currently airing on Wyoming Public Radio, Yellowstone Public Radio and KGNU in Colorado. Episodes can be streamed and downloaded at the Threshold podcast website.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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