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Buffalo Roam Into Controversy

The great American buffalo is roaming out of Yellowstone and into a legal dispute. Plus, John Grisham to ’10 graduates.

A group of buffalo, also known as American bison, block a lane of traffic in Yellowstone National Park, while walking towards West Yellowstone, Mont. (AP)

The buffalo of Yellowstone are bold and powerful, symbols of Montana and the West. But the West may be running out of room for them. 

The state of Montana has struck a deal with media mogul Ted Turner to hand over more than eighty buffalo from public lands to his private ranch.

The deal comes at a hefty price. Ted Turner will keep 75 percent of the herd’s offspring. 

The state says this is its only option. Environmentalists are suing.  

This Hour, On Point: America’s mighty buffalo, and what it means when the state of Montana moves them from Yellowstone to Ted Turner’s ranch. Plus, we listen as John Grisham addresses the ’10 grads at UNC.


Kirk Johson, Denver bureau chief for the New York Times. Read his article, “Deal Puts Yellowstone Bison on Ted Turner’s Range.”

David Risley, Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Administrator. He helped coordinate the deal that more than 80 bison from Yellowstone to Ted Turner’s ranch.

Summer Nelson, Montana Legal Counsel at the Western Watersheds Project, which has filed a lawsuit along with three other environmental groups against the state for transferring more than 80 bison to Ted Turner’s ranch.

Closing Segment:

In the sixth installment in our continuing graduation season series, we listen to an excerpt of writer John Grisham’s commencement address to the graduates of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. His speech’s theme was “Find A Voice.” You can read the transcript, and watch the full address:   

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  • lenny brooks

    They are American bison not Buffalo, which are from Africa (cape Buffalo), and waterbuffalo from Asia

  • http://szarka.org/ Rob Szarka

    Yes, Lenny, but the song doesn’t go “where the American bison roam…”

  • Matt Frandsen

    The core issue here is space. Bison need large areas, unless the state of Montana is able to give them that space it is their duty to find a place, or person, that is able to. I’d like to hear the guest’s opinion on this issue.

  • Rachel Anderson

    I agree with Lenny…it is bison, not buffalo. I was surprised to hear the word “buffalo” thrown around so much this morning on the radio. I expect NPR to get it right. Even the picture caption on this page is strange to me: “buffalo, also knows as American bison…” Shouldn’t it be the other way around? “Bison, also known as buffalo?” I am constantly surprised about how much Easterners get wrong about the West. It’s their country too. And while I’m on the topic, let me point out another common mistake Easterners mistake about the West: Nevada is NOT pronounced Ne-vah-da. The “a” is pronounced like the “a” in “apple.”

  • cory

    I’m just glad to see the species continue. If some of them reside with Ted Turner and become “TNT Buffalo Burgers”, I don’t see much harm.

    To the Bison not Buffalo freaks… Ever hear of Kleenex or Xeroxing? What is on the helmet of the Buffalo Bills? No one has heard of “Bison Bill”! What is the big deal?

  • Rachel

    Cory, the big deal is that this is a news program, not a sports team, nor a children’s song.

    And you’re comparison to Kleenex or Xerox just doesn’t make sense. Those are examples of name brands replacing the name of the actual item. That’s not what’s happened here.

    I’m not saying that buffalo isn’t an appropriate colloquialism for the animal. I use the word here and there. But NPR’s goal, I believe, is to accurately inform its listeners.

    Plus, “bison” isn’t so obscure or historic of a term as to make it ridiculous to use. It’s not as if I’m asking NPR to use the formal latin name of every animal or plant it speaks of.

  • barb in west yellowstone

    As Summer Nelson said, the real issue is privitization of wildlife, specifically of wild buffalo. If during the five years FWP and APHIS had these buffalo in their quarantined jail and couldn’t come up with a suitable public landscape or tribal entity, I could imagine they didn’t look very hard.

    The whole public relations push when this plan was announced was that if these animals did not go to Turner they would be killed. If FWP couldn’t do an adequate job in five years, and Turner’s ranch was the only alternative, why pay w/genetics instead of having Turner Enterprise submit a monthly bill for his costs? …

    There is no public trust vis-a-vis wild buffalo that FWP won’t break …

    barb in west yellowstone

  • cory


    Points taken, and I’m glad to hear some flexibility in your tone. Cheers!

  • Mike

    Astounding. An entire hour about Ted Turner and buffalo, yet no word from either.

  • informed American

    America is going in the toilet and pinko-liberal On Point does a program about buffalo chips.

  • William

    Hi Jane and Tom,
    Great show. A follow-up installment to this important show you aired would be a real service to us all.

    The Turner issue and the Montana Governor’s backroom deal to give away something that was not his to give – Americans’ last wild Buffalo – is really just a symptom of the key underlying issue.

    A few cattle ranchers in 1 state believe their sense of entitlement is justified, and that they are justified in killing, hazing, and dislocating Americans’ last continually-wild and genetically-true Buffalo herd to increase their personal profit margin. A few wealthy businessmen are permitted to retain control of public lands around Yellowstone National Park and to maintain exclusive privileges to federally subsidized grass. These welfare ranchers are supported by their powerful lobby association and heavily influence the 5-agency IBMP. This multi-million dollar annual waste of federal taxpayer dollars needs an official justification and that, of course, is the charade over brucellosis. The Montana ranchers and at least 3 of the 5 influenced government agencies malign the harmless Buffalo herd and propagate scientifically-baseless lies about a disease the cattle ranchers themselves brought to North America and Yellowstone’s native wildlife species. This condition provides the foundation for a needless 5-year “study” and “quarantine” about “reintegrating” Bison “back” onto the same land they have grazed upon for over 11,000 years (the time of the woolly mammoth).

    Ergo, the real point is not the 75% offspring deal, the government talking points, disease, or a mystifying conundrum about where to put Buffalo. The key underlying issue is greed, and what it will take to stop a small group of “entrepreneurs” willing to do whatever it takes – including kill – to keep what they have and to get more. It’s the so familiar theme of a greedy group putting its interests over the rest of ours.

  • Alice Askew

    Hey, we in Buffalo (not Bison), NY could adopt a few of the critters from Yellowstone. We’ve got lots of abandoned mills on Lake Erie that could be razed and the sites planted with prairie grasses. Our winters would be absolutely no problem for the bison; they’re tough, like us, and used to adversity, not unlike the football team whose helmets they grace.

    Actually, “Buffalo” has nothing to do with the animal but is a corruption of the French voyageurs’ description, “Beau Fleuve,” meaning “beautiful river.”

  • Chad

    There is misinformation in this interview in regards to brucellosis. Ms. Clayson asks Mr. Johnson if a infected cattle herd or individual beef is infected that it will kill the animal or the herd must be eliminated. This is false information, brucellosis is a disease that mainly affects reproduction in cattle or bison. It does not kill the animal. Regulations are such that if a herd is infected it will not be able to sell or transfer live animals from that premise. It in no way affects the meat or animal in a life threatening means. I have a friend that 30 years ago had buffalo and beef both infected with brucellosis that grazed together and lived healthy lives. Also in regards to the buffalo / bison controversy. I have raised buffalo for almost 20 years and have visited with many, many people over the years. If I use bison in our conversation at least 50% of the people will ask if that is the same as a buffalo. If I use buffalo 90%+ will know without a doubt what beast I am referring to. There are no simple solutions to this controversy in Yellowstone. The problem is political! not environmental!

  • http://happyrain.org/ Emily

    I agree with Lenny…it is bison, not buffalo. I was surprised to hear the word “buffalo” thrown around so much this morning on the radio. I expect NPR to get it right. Even the picture caption on this page is strange to me: “buffalo, also knows as American bison…” Shouldn’t it be the other way around? “Bison, also known as buffalo?” I am constantly surprised about how much Easterners get wrong about the West. It’s their country too. And while I’m on the topic, let me point out another common mistake Easterners mistake about the West: Nevada is NOT pronounced Ne-vah-da. The “a” is pronounced like the “a” in “apple.”

  • WBUR


  • Donaldcla7

    You are so very right William, no doubt about it. Just like a lot of other things in this country. The greed of a few is what it’s all about. These animals have been here for thousands of years and the same kind of man who almost made them extinct is up to his same old tricks. He cannot be satisfied with sharing the land, he must have it all.

    • Karine

      But,Donald, I thought the article said that there were so many Bison that Turner agreeed to take some on to his land.I didn’t get the message at all, that he just wanted to have them for himself.There was apparently not enough room in Yellowstone.(?)

  • Donaldcla7

    informed american, there used to be millions of these great animals on this continent till the greedy men came along who wanted all the land. They didn’t have the heart to share the land with the (bison) pta, Pte, Ptatanka, buffalo and the native Americans. It’s all about greed my friend, not what the bison is called…

  • Karine

    I always said that too, Emily, that it is *Bison*, not Buffalo.But if you look it up,or, visit the Bison in the Bronx zoo, actually, the Bison is the American Buffalo.
    They are not the exact same thing, no, but they are apparently called both, which I didn’t realize either, after 40 years of correcting people. :-0 :-)

  • Karine

    Thank you Alice!  I had not known previously where the word Buffalo came form, I has assumed it was an American Indian name.

    And I agree, people in Buffalo NY should be given the chance to have the animals *there*. (if possible!)

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