The Lamar Buffalo Ranch occupies a significant place in the history of American wildlife conservation and management. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The extermination of bison throughout the west in the 1800s nearly eliminated them from Yellowstone. Even after the park was established in 1872, poachers faced few deterrents. With only 25 bison counted in the park in 1901, Congress appropriated $15,000 to augment the herd by purchasing 21 bison from private owners. As part of the first effort to preserve a wild species through intensive management, these bison were fed and bred in Lamar Valley at what became known as the Lamar Buffalo Ranch.
As the herd grew in size, bison were released to breed with the park’s free-roaming population. Bison from the ranch were also used to start and supplement herds on other public and tribal land. Today the Yellowstone bison population numbers in the thousands. It’s one the largest populations in North America and among the few that is genetically pure because it has not been interbred with cattle.
A program to raise bison like domestic cattle in Yellowstone may seem incongruous and unnecessary in retrospect, but the buffalo ranch stands as a reminder that today’s well-intended wildlife management policies may have unintended consequences and be overturned by changing values and advances in ecological knowledge.
As listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Lamar Buffalo Ranch Historic District includes five buildings: a ranger station, constructed in 1915 as the buffalo keeper’s residence; a pole fenced corral built and rebuilt from 1915 to the 1930s; a log barn for hay and horses (1927); a bunkhouse (1929); and a residence used for the assistant buffalo keeper that was moved to the ranch in 1938 from Soda Butte (where it had probably been a ranger station). The vegetation around the ranch is mostly sagebrush and nonnative grasses that were planted during the period of hay cultivation. Remnants of irrigation ditches, fencing, and water troughs remain throughout the ranch.