National Parks Journal: Ranger Tara Ross Talks Yellowstone’s Most Incredible ‘Bison Stories’

by Jon D. B.

“Everything about the whole cycle of life, I think is so amazing. And in Yellowstone National Park – it’s just on display. Especially bison.”

Chatting exclusively with Outsider, Yellowstone ranger Tara Ross talks her most incredible bison stories, and how America’s only remaining pure-blooded bison population keeps the park wild.

“I tell you what, if you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone – don’t plan a trip in the fall,” she tells me. “It used to be a great time to come, but recently our skies are just so smoky. So come in June! You’ll see the babies.”

Tara knows she’s speaking my language. There are few cuter creatures on this green earth than a baby bison, or “red dog” as they are affectionately known. In her 30+ years as a Yellowstone National Park ranger, Tara’s seen more than most ever will.

Red babies under a blue sky, she says, is paradise. Those blue skies, however, are now only overhead in winter and spring due to the horrible wildfires plaguing the American West.

“When our oldest son was born, we lived in the interior of the park when he was still an infant. I had an extra large snowmobile suit for the winter so I could put him inside of it with me in a carrier on my chest,” she laughs. “I would zip him up in there with me and we would snowmobile 24 miles just to get to a station. And there would be momma bison all around carrying their babies for spring.”

Once spring rolls around, the babies are born to the national park in “May or early June,” she explains. And few times rival calving season for Tara in Yellowstone.

“It still amazes me, every year, how maternal the momma bison are with their young. How dangerous they are, and what they will do to protect their babies.”

After Three Decades, Yellowstone National Park’s Tara Ross Is Still ‘Absolutely Blown Away by Bison’

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (Photo by William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images)

From Tara’s experience, cow elk can be every bit as lethal in protecting their little ones, too. But that’s a topic for another time. Because after three decades of service in Yellowstone National Park, Tara is still “absolutely blown away by bison.”

“Being up and close with bison in the middle of their rut is unbelievable. The traffic jams in some areas become crazy, because you can’t move them! And why would we?” she laughs.

Good luck to anyone who ever wants to tell a bison what to do, Tara says. They are not in Yellowstone to abide traffic. They’re there to live their lives as they have for millennia.

“It’s just on display. You get to watch their lives unfold! The males will beat down each other for mates. Then, a bull will chase a cow until she can’t run anymore. Chase and chase and chase… Until the female has no steam left.”

You can imagine what happens next.

“And the kid bison, from the previous year, just has to stand by and watch this!” But the beauty of it all, Tara says, far outweighs the brutality of rutting season.

“If you’ve seen Dances With Wolves, it is exactly like that. The males and females are paired up all over the valley as far as the eye can see. Rolling hills in the background. It’s breathtaking.”

“To watch those new babies run free in the field and play with each other every year,” Tara says, “is just so beautiful.”