Legal Status of the American Bison (Part 3)

Over the past several decades the alarm has been raised over climate change with perhaps the most popular focus on fossil fuels, increasing temperatures and rising ocean levels.  To a lesser extent,  in the popular purview, are the plight of the ecosystem such as the Amazon rainforest, artic regions and wetlands.  But one of the largest ecosystems in the world has received scant attention, if even that. This ecosystem occupies as much as one fourth of the United States, stretching from the Rockies to the prairies east of the Missouri River and from Texas into Canada. Yet the plight of this great ecosystem, also known as our breadbasket, remains ignored.  The last time significant attention was given was during the Dust Bowl years when the Great Plains exacted its revenge and forced us to own up to our destructive behavior. 

The Great Plains continues to deteriorate, and any recovery and preservation efforts must include its keystone species—the wild bison.  But the wild bison cannot survive without effective legal definitions and protections at both state and federal levels.

So, while we face the coasts, wringing our hands over their submergence into the oceans, we have turned our backs to a sleeping giant of climate change disasters.  The state of the ecosystems profoundly affects climate.  The Great Plains needs its wild bison returned, and we need to return what we have taken.


[1] Aune, K., Jorgensen, D. & Gates, C. 2017. Bison bison (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017.  Also, briefly the classifications of the IUCN Red List are as follows:

Species are classified in nine groups, set through criteria such as rate of decline, population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and distribution fragmentation.

  • Extinct (EX) – No known individuals remaining.
    • Extinct in the Wild (EW) – Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.
    • Endangered (EN) – High risk of extinction in the wild.
    • Vulnerable (VU) – High risk of endangerment in the wild.
    • Least Concern (LC) – Lowest risk. Does not qualify for a more at risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.
    • Data Deficient (DD) – Not enough data to make an assessment of its risk of extinction.
    • Not Evaluated (NE) – Has not yet been evaluated against the criteria.

When discussing the IUCN Red List, the official term “threatened” is a grouping of three categories: Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable (Retrieved from

[2] Aune, K., Jorgensen, D. & Gates, C.

[3] i.e., bison with cattle genes present

[4] Boyd, D. & C. Gates. “A Brief Review of the Status of Plains Bison in North America”. Journal of Wildlife. Spring 2006, Vol 45 No 2: 15-21.

[5] Montana Code Annotated 87-2-101(6) and 87-2-101(16)

[6] Montana Code Annotated 87-1-206

[7] Wyoming Code 23-1-302

[8] North Dakota Adm. Codes 48.1-04 and 48-12-01.1-01

[9] South Dakota Statute 39-5-6

[10] Idaho Adm. Procedures Act and Idaho Code 25-3301

[11]  “Legal and Conservation Status of Bison in Surrounding Regions”.  Buffalo Field Campaign.