Horse Butte Information

Information provided from the website for and newsletter from:
Buffalo Field Campaign
P.O. Box 957
West Yellowstone, Montana 59758

Phone: (406) 646-0070



This page and the pages connected to it are taken from newsletters and archives of the Buffalo Field Campaign. All rights and privileges to the contents belong to their organization unless they specify another source. The contents on these pages areput here with their permission and therefore cannot be copied without consent without contacting them directly.   Spitiwalker

Horse Butte Information
What is Horse Butte? | Why Horse Butte is important to Buffalo? | Native Americans | Capture Facility
Threatened & Endangered Species | Sensitive Plants | Horse Butte Wildlands Protection Project

What is Horse Butte?Map

To the west of Yellowstone lies a unique piece of land that separates two arms of Hebgen Lake. This area is known as the Horse Butte Peninsula. It sits in a basin surrounded by rugged mountains and the lake itself. Horse Butte provides rich habitat to a large community of species found nowhere else in the world. Its relatively low elevation makes it ideal Spring habitat for buffalo. Horse Butte also provides critical habitat for lynx, bald eagle nesting teritory, and acts as an open-water refuge for Trumpeter swans and hundreds of other wintering waterfowl. This unique thumb of land is frequented by otters, beavers, skunks, marmot, deer, elk, moose, and other incredible wildlife species. Native cutthroat trout utilize the surrounding lakes and rivers and numerous plant species not found in the surrounding alpine regions grow from the Butte's soil. The Butte's proximity to the Park's boundary and neighboring wilderness areas make it a vital corridoor for wildlife species such as the gray wolf and grizzly bear. An incredible diversity of plant and wildlife species and habitat types thrive on the peninsula.

Why  Horse Butte is Important to Buffalo?
For generations, buffalo have migrated to Horse Butte via a winter/spring migration corridor. The buffalo winter at this lower elevation and calve (give birth) on the "protected" peninsula in the Spring. When the sun has melted the deep snows, and the time is right, they return to ellowstone using this same route. While this migration to the Butte is a recent phenomenon of the buffalo˜Hebgen Lake is a reservoir created by a dam - surely they would have historically migrated along the Madison River's lowland riparian zone. The Butte has become a great example of the ecological connectivity of a dynamic ecosystem that is not truly represented by man-made lines on a map.

Horse Butte's Traditional Use by Native Americans
Hunters, gatherers, and fisherfolk - like their buffalo relatives - have long drawn sustenance from the Butte's early green-up. Archeological explorations have found remnants of early Native American artifacts. The area is under intense pressure from a multitude of human sources including the hazing, capture and slaughter of buffalo, unregulated snowmobile use, and residential development.

Horse Butte Capture Facility
| View photos and video of the facililty |
According to the Interagency Bison Management Plan :
The "purpose" of the bison capture and testing facility is to capture bison migrating out of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) between November 1 and April 30 annually and test them for brucellosis. Bulls, seronegative non-pregnant cows and calves would be released after testing. Seropositive bison or pregnant cows would be loaded into stock trailers and removed from the area. (Translates to: SENT TO SLAUGHTER!)

Truth: Many Bulls and non pregnant females are not tested for brucellosis and are sent to slaughter.
Site is on traditional buffalo winter and birthing grounds
The proposed capture facility site was preferred by DOL due to the travel patterns of bison and the topography of the area. Bison travel to and from YNP to Horse Butte along the Madison River and the north side of the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake and along the Gneiss Creek, Cougar Creek and Duck Creek. Bison traveling northwest towards Horse Butte or southeast from the Butte would be funneled between Horse Butte and the Madison Arm into the capture facility.
All proceeds from the Slaughter of Buffalo will go directly to the Montana Department of Livestock
The capture facility would be owned by the USDA Animal, Plant, Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and installed, operated and maintained by the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and APHIS. A special use permit authorizing the capture facility on National Forest System lands would be issued to DOL from the US Forest Service (USFS).
The Combined cost of these federal agencies actions will be over 500,000 dollars to the tax payers
The facility, parking of vehicles, space for bringing trucks and trailers in for loading and transporting bison from the site, and an area for piling snow plowed from around the facility would be located on 1-2 acres of an open sagebrush/grass flat near a small patch of conifers.
The facility itself would be comprised of a series of green metal-panels (corral type) that are connected into four holding pens (30' X 50' each), a work area (50' X 70'), wing-extensions and capture area (175' X 100'), and alley-ways (10' X 100') around the pens. Outer dimensions of the entire facility would be approximately 100' X 300'. An estimated 5 acre area around the capture facility would be closed to all human entry except for permitted and administrative activities. A small (12'-14') self-contained, propane fueled trailer would be located in the work area to provide shelter for personnel 24 hours/day.
A gas powered generator would be on site to run the hydraulic system associated with operating the capture facility gates and chute mechanisms. The generator would run intermittently when bison are being moved into the capture facility, when they are moved around inside the facility and when moved out of the facility. Personnel would be on site around the clock for security reasons.
The permit would authorize storage of various equipment on-site. On a daily basis 1-2 pick-up truck???s, a bobcat and/or 1-2 snowmobiles would be parked at the facility. Snowplow parking would not be needed if DOL contracts a groomer. However, storage of a snowplow may be necessary if a groomer is unavailable. During active bison trapping, 1-2 one-ton trucks with gooseneck trailers needed for animal transportation might be parked at the facility for short periods of time. THESE VEHICLES will transport buffalo TO SLAUGHTER HOUSES.
Hay would be used to "bait" or attract bison into the pens and hay would be stored on-site near the self contained trailer. Both the trailer and the hay would be located within the work area and surrounded by panels. According to the Special Use Application submitted by the DOL, the number of snowmobiles associated with the bison capture facility is normally expected to be 1-2 per day.
It is possible that up to 5 snowmobiles may be in use on any one day during operation of the capture facility.

Locals Opposed to the site
News Article 8/11/03- Community Organization Calls For End To Hazing And Killing Of Wild Buffalo On Horse Butte Penninsula, Requests Meeting with Governor to Consider Alternative, Common Sense Management

News Article 8/15/03- Up in Arms: Residents Angry Over Horse Butte Hazing
The Horse Butte capture facility would be accessed via forest roads (FR) 6954 and 610 or accessed via the "Pine Avenue" road in the Horse Butte subdivision. The residents signed a petition as well as holding a demonstration at the local Forest Service office against this facility. See Bozeman Daily Chronicle Op Ed 1/31/04
A wildlife closure area was established for the protection of wildlife, including bald eagles on approximately 75 acres along the south end of Horse Butte. This closure was initiated in 1993 and prohibits any human entry from December 1 to August 15 annually.

Endangered And Threatened Species
 A wildlife closure area was established for the protection of wildlife, including bald eagles on approximately 75 acres along the south end of Horse Butte. This closure was initiated in 1993 and prohibits any human entry from December 1 to August 15 annually. The capture facility is located within 1/2 mile of the bald eagle nesting site. The 24 hour a day activities would impact many wintering wildlife species.
Also according to the Special Use Application submitted by the DOL, the number of snowmobiles associated with the bison capture facility is normally expected to be 1-2 per day. It is possible that up to 5 snowmobiles may be in use on any one day during operation of the capture facility.
In addition to thes factors the EA states that this pristine bald eagle nesting site will experience this disruption:
Quote: "Noise associated with the capture facility would include: the gas powered generator (in operation only when bison are being moved in/around/out of the capture facility), human voices, the bobcat in operation (engine noise and contact with the metal panels of the facility), bison hooves hitting the metal and plywood panels of the facility and the sides of trailers (used to transport animals out of the area), trailer doors hitting each other or metal panels of the facility, scraping of snow shovels (removing snow from facility), snowmobile engines (used for hazing animals to and from the facility) and a snowplow or snow blower. The frequency and intensity of noise at or near the capture facility would be variable. Noise associated with access to and from the capture facility includes intermittent travel of motorized vehicles (described above), snowmobiles, a snowplow and/or snow blower."
In addition to Bald eagles, there is habitat for the following sensitive species on Horse Butte:
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)
Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)
Lynx (Felis lynx)
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
Trumpeter Swans

Hebgen Lake provides year-round habitat for trumpeter swans, but is crucial wintering grounds. On average during the winter, there are 300 Trumpeter swans observed on the open water of the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake. When snowmobile and helicopter hazing activities occur along the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake associated with the Horse Butte capture facility, the Swans are sent aflight. See Video Gallery Wildlife for the Swan disturbance.
Lynx are currently proposed for listing as a threatened species. Federal agencies are required to confer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when they determine that an authorized action "is likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of lynx or their habitat.
Effects: Lynx may use the area around Horse Butte, the lake and the river shore as part of a dispersal or travel corridor to more desirable habitat but would not likely remain in the area near the proposed capture facility due to existing human activities including a high use snowmobile trail and and a residential area. This facility will increase human activities considerably for the next 10 years in this area.
Boreal Owls
Boreal owls are generally present from January to July therefore could be present during proposed activities. Although owl surveys have not been completed on Horse Butte during the winter. Early summer point count bird surveys were completed in the Horse Butte area in 1996 and 1997. Although great grey and great horned owls were observed in the vicinity, boreal owls were not eard in this area. One boreal owl was heard in the Tepee Creek drainage approximately 4-5 miles northeast of the proposed capture facility in 1997.
Effects: Boreal owls hunt primarily after dark. Generators and personnell on site 24 hours a day will impact this species.
Extensive travel by wolverines is not unusual and wolverines can have home ranges of up to 950 km2 (Ruggiero et al., page 117). Natal and maternal den sites require a high degree of structural diversity. They are considered a "wilderness" mammal and have been observed in remote areas of the Hebgen Lake Ranger District. Wolverine are not predators of bison, but will consume bison as carrion.
Effects: unknown It is very probable that within their range requirements ans sightings in this area that wolverines could use Horse Butte now or in the future.
There are many diverse species of birds and mammals which also use this area including: elk, moose, deer, sandhill cranes, pelicans, black backed woodpeckers, pikas, rabbits, voles, porcupines, bats, otters, skunks, foxes, beavers, black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves. An intact ecosystem at work, please let public officials know that this is important to you - there is no need for a capture facility if there are no cows on the federal lands there!

Sensitive Plants on Horse Butte
Sensitive species are those plants and animal species identified by a Regional Forester for which population viability is a concern as evidenced by a significant current or predicted downward trend in population numbers, density, or in habitat capability that would reduce a species' existing distribution (FSM 2670.5.19).
Protection of sensitive species and their habitats is a response to the mandate of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) to maintain viable populations of all native and desired non-native vertebrate species (36 CFR 219.19).
As part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decision making process, proposed Forest Service programs or activities are to be reviewed to determine how a proposed action will affect any sensitive species (FSM 2670.32). The goal of the analysis should be to avoid or minimize impacts to sensitive species.
If impacts can not be avoided, the significance of potential adverse effects on the population or its habitat within the proposed project area and on the species as a whole needs to be assessed.
The biological evaluation is the means of conducting the review and of documenting the findings (FSM2672.4).
Sensitive plant surveys were not conducted specifically on the site for the capture facility. This is a unique ecosystem, a pennisula, so findings could be unique if research was conducted.
EA decisions were based on surveys in the area over 5 years ago.
Sensitive Species whose habitat is known to be in this area from the scketchy science that has been done for these sensitive species:
Slender White paintbrush (Castilleja longispica)
Large-leaved balsamroot (Balsamorhiza macrophylla)
It also highly likely that habitat could be available for these sensitive Species:
Small-flowered Columbine (Aquilegia brevistyla)
Alpine Meadowrue (Thalictrum alpinum)

Thanks to you and BFC, cattle will no longer graze here!
In May of 1999, BFC presented its first batch of citizen's petitions requesting that wildlife be given priority over livestock on the Horse Butte Peninsula. Since then, after collecting and submitting nearly 200,000 signatures, coupled with innumerous emails, one of our petition's demands has been met. Cattle will no longer graze on the Butte's public lands. This is a victory that we should all celebrate, but the insane management practices of the MT DOL continue regardless of cattle's presence, and so we continue with the Horse Butte Wildlands Protection Project (HBWPP).

The HBWPP is a holistic approach to assessing the biological, cultural and anthropogenic components of the Horse Butte Peninsula. This study utilizes existing data from archeological surveys, predicting threatened and endangered species habitat range, satellite imagery, and Geographic Information System (GIS) layers of reliable species observations on Horse Butte. The study looks at historical U.S. Forest Service range vegetation records as well as current range conditions. Our plant surveys from last summer discovered two sensitive species of monkey flower near the site of the DOL's buffalo capture facility. We are urging the US Forest Service to liste these plants as species of special concern on the Gallatin National Forest.

BFC's daily patrols document wildlife sightings and the locations and activities of wildlife are entered into our GIS database. Volunteers document ways in which the harassment of buffalo disturbes all wildlife on the peninsula. The sum of all thes parts will be an encompassing view of the ecology of Horse Butte. This will provide a better understanding of the area‚s biological components and will help guide efforts to change human use and managemnt regimes in this unique part of the world. Step by step, we will return public lands to their intended use as wildlife habitat using this project as a mode.

With help from the Missoula-based Ecology Center, we are developing a series of GIS maps of the Horse Butte Peninsula. The HBWPP's future presentations will show the importance of this area to decision-makers and the public and support our outrech and education efforts.

THE LATEST: Buffalo are still not "allowed" to roam freely on the Horse Butte Penninsula, and hundreds were hazed from the area last year. Unfortunately, the DOL is quickly preparing to offer them the same fate again this year. We are getting closer to our goal of making public lands available for public wildlife and know that our work in the field and constant pressure on the agencies involved has made a difference. For more information about the HBWPP, email