The Henry Mountain Bison

The Henry Mountain Bison: American Bison Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
American Bison
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer
The Henry Mountains of southeast Utah are famous for being the last mountain range in the contiguous United States to have been officially mapped. Indeed, before they were mapped, they were often referred to as the “Unknown Mountains.” Another relative unknown detail about this range is that it harbors one of only five genetically pure, free roaming bison herds on North American public lands.

In 1941, a seed herd of 18 American Plains Bison (B. b. bison) were transplanted from Yellowstone National Park to the arid desert of Utah’s Robbers Roost. A year later, five more bulls were introduced to the herd in hopes of sufficiently diversifying the gene pool and sustaining the herd. The bison must not have found Robbers Roost as appealing as Butch Cassidy had, though, because this new Wild Bunch set out for literal greener pastures that very same year.

The small herd forded the Dirty Devil River and travelled southwest toward the Burr Desert. The herd stopped here for a while, enjoying their newfound buffet atop the Aquarius Plateau. 21 years later, though, in 1963, the still small herd grew tired of the desert and abandoned it altogether for the higher, more verdant snow fed meadows of the nearby Henry Mountains. Here, the herd thrived and quickly swelled in numbers.

Today, the herd’s population is estimated to be between 300 and 400 animals, which ecologists and wildlife biologists regard as the maximum carrying capacity of their Henry Mountain range. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has responded accordingly. In an effort to perpetuate the health of the herd and their range, the DWR began issuing “Once-in-a-lifetime” permits to hunters hoping to fulfill not only a tag but also a burning sense of adventure. The Henry Mountains, after all, were mapped last for a reason. They remain one of the most rugged and remote places in a state known for its rugged and remote places.

Fittingly, quite unlike their more quintessential Plains Bison brethren, the Henry Mountains bison can be found almost anywhere in the Henrys between the desert lowlands and timberline. Apparently no one has told the herd that Plains Bison don’t typically like high elevations or steep mountain slopes. This unique proclivity of the Henry Mountains herd to cast off behavioral stereotypes works in their favor when hunting season rolls around and they abandon the high, open meadows for steep, wooded canyons and thick groves of aspen and evergreens.

This highly adaptive nature unique to the Henry Mountains herd made it an obvious candidate to serve as a seed population in early 2010 when 39 individuals were transplanted from the Henry Mountains to the Book Cliffs along the Utah-Colorado border. These 39 animals were to serve as a genetic supplement to a relatively new herd first reintroduced to the Book Cliffs by the Ute Indian Tribe in 1986. The now 600-strong Book Cliffs herd is well on its way to reestablishing the American Plains Bison’s historic range in the Book Cliffs.

The story of the Book Cliffs and Henry Mountains Bison give us reason to hope that one day soon, the American Bison might reclaim its territory, a historic range that once ran from Alaska through the Canadian territories and the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. And, if so, the role the Henry Mountains herd will play in that expansion may be a significant one.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

The Henry Mountain Bison-Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from
Text: Josh Boling, 2019

The Henry Mountain Bison-Additional Reading

Utah’s Book Cliffs Herd, Bison Bellows Series, National Park Service, June 30, 2016,

How scientists brought bison back to Banff, National Public Radio, Feb 28, 2017,

Buffalo (Bison) on the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef Country, Wayne County Tourism,

Henry Mountains,,

Bison Unit Management Plan, Unit #15 Henry Mountains, Utah Division of Wildlife Management,

Gilman, Don, Rare, genetically-pure bison found in Utah’s Henry Mountains, St George News, Jan 12, 2016,

Henry Mountain Outfitters, HuntersTrailhead,

Brian, Jayden, Utah Henry Mountain Bison Hunts, Bull Mountain Outfitters, LLC,

Henry Mountains bison herd, Wikipedia,

Get Involved With Plans To Manage Yellowstone National Park’s Bison

Yellowstone Bison, Male
Photo Courtesy National Park Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer

Talk about iconic species at Yellowstone National Park and you’ll most likely start with bison. So tightly are these animals tied to the national parks that they’re even on the Interior Department’s emblem.

But Yellowstone bison also are controversial. Many of these shaggy animals head out of the park in winter and roam into Montana. That can be a problem, as some in Montana’s livestock industry fear bison will transmit brucellosis — a disease that can cause cows to abort their fetuses — to their herds.

Since 2000, the Interagency Bison Management Plan has governed how the park’s bison will be managed in and out of the park. Now state and federal agencies with connections to Yellowstone are working to craft a new approach.

Everything likely will be on the table as that effort moves forward, including the park’s work to maintain its bison population at a specific number.

The National Parks Conservation Association along with other regional and national organizations earlier this spring sent a letter to Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk outlining important areas of consideration for the development of the new plan.

Those groups hope a solution can be found to killing hundreds of bison that leave the park during the winter months.

Caroline Byrd is executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She says the effort to craft a new management plan “offers the opportunity to improve, update and shift the management of Yellowstone bison and reduce the annual cycle of controversy and conflict that has characterized the public debate regarding bison management for too long.”

A new management plan, she says, should be “rooted in science, reflect the changes that have occurred in the past decade, incorporate our knowledge and experience managing bison, and chart a new course for bison conservation and management that is good for bison, good for Yellowstone National Park, good for the State of Montana…”

You can lend your thoughts to the process, too, as a public comment period on aspects that should be covered in an environmental impact statement are being accepted into June.

To comment, visit Yellowstone National Park’s website ( click on the “Get Involved” link in the left hand column, and then on the “Planning” link.

For Wild About Utah, this is Jameson Clifton with National Parks Traveler

Yellowstone Bison
Photo Courtesy National Park Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer

Image: Courtesy US National Parks Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Text:     Jameson Clifton,

Additional Reading:

Bison Gores, Tosses Australian Visitor Several Times At Yellowstone National Park,, National Parks Traveler Staff,
Yellowstone bison might look tame as cattle, but an Australian man discovered they are not/NPT file photo A bison whose space was invaded by Yellowstone National Park visitors Tuesday … not released. This is the second bison goring incident this year in Yellowstone. Last month a 16-year-old …

Teenager Posing For Picture Gored By Bison At Yellowstone National Park,, National Parks Traveler Staff,
Yellowstone bison might look tame, but they can quickly charge you/Kurt Repanshek A 16-year-old exchange student was recovering Saturday from being gored by a bison at Yellowstone National … A 16-year-old exchange student was recovering Saturday from being gored by a bison at Yellowstone National Park. …

Agencies Working To Replace Interagency Bison Management Plan For Yellowstone National Park,, National Parks Traveler Staff,
public ideas on how best to manage bison that leave Yellowstone National Park , the first step … the livestock industry in Montana largely opposes Yellowstone bison leaving the park and heading into lower … the park’s work to maintain its bison population at a specific number. A year ago Yellowstone spokesman Al …

Bison Removal In Yellowstone National Park Draws Protests,, National Parks Traveler Staff,
Plans by Yellowstone National Park officials to remove roughly 1,000 bison from … and slaughter program, implemented by the National Park Service, is meant to keep the Yellowstone bison … support relocating Yellowstone bison to start herds elsewhere in their state. “(Montana) Governor …