Wild American Bison are captive?

also undermining @anneclewis use of her own data

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I agreed with this before and I do it again! It´s just not right to impose or better force your own idea on this matter on someone elses observation, when the matter clearly is not as bullet proof as one might think (and I actually also learned something for my own behaviour when IDing and annotaing others observations).

But good thing is that the observers opinion will always overrule previous statements if it´s one against one, and I appreciate that iNat realized it like that.


Perhaps this has been discussed above but regardless of the “fence-ness” I am more interested in whether they have been crossed with cattle. Genetics is, for me, more important to the biology than what we might ID as “captive” or “wild” Bison here (without getting into the fraught definition of Wild). I’m sure most captive bred-for-food Bison are crossed and should be reported as such. It is more important to know which large herds are known to be be crossed and how that effects the future Biology of the species?

For iNat genetics don’t play a role, escapees are still wild even though they were born in captivity.

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The wildcard there is how many generations back does the cattle parentage (or any other hybrid) have to go to still be considered a hybrid?

It is my understanding there are likely very few 100 percent genetically pure Bison left even among herds that would unquestionably be considered wild.


So I don’t think there’s ever going to be real agreement on a binary choice and one that is so impactful (i.e., non-wild designation removes the data from maps, graphs, projects, etc.).

This does not mean I arguing for a broad definition of “wild”. Much of this conversation has been about edge cases like the Wind River herd, which makes sense because that’s where the OP encountered this, but there are much, much grayer areas than that herd. I don’t think I could ever be convinced that the bison herd near Gainsville, FL is “wild” in any similar way that the Yellowstone herd is. That Gainsville herd has a large amount of space (20K+ acres) but they are fenced in what is most likely outside of the native non-migratory range of any historically wild bison. One could argue that they are wild, but what then for an introduced herd in the eastern hemisphere with sufficient space?

All of that to say I do not think there will ever be clear consensus among the community on terms like “wild” for some organisms as this is inherently subjective territory. And I believe it’s time to think outside the box that we’ve been given here. The “wild” designation is unique among Data Quality Assessment attributes. I doubt that you would find any large number of observations where there are thoughtful arguments for and again an observation’s date or location being accurate!

I would like to suggest two changes and see if there is any support for attempting to advance these.

  1. An improved definition of “wild”. I’ve seen posts talking about wild having more to do with self-sufficiency than necessarily to do with constraints in space and time. This rings true to me both for plants and animals and if there’s some consensus here I would prefer that iNaturalist more clearly delineate that in their definition of “wild”.
  2. Even with an improved definition I think it would that there will still be disagreements, but also areas where there are not. With bison, virtually everyone seems to agree that the Yellowstone herd is “wild”, regardless of definition of the term. Where there are, for the sake of argument, <75% consensus one way or another, I would just love to see/have some way to clearly indicate and filter on that. Perhaps some indication near the top of an observation, similar to the introduced and threatened indications. Some simple way to indicate that there is disagreement beyond just one or two individuals would go a long way, I think, in acknowledging where there are gray areas which is, I think, more interesting than the current majority rule system.



SImply search for the large number of arguments about at what point an accuracy circle being too large renders a record’s location inaccurate. There are people comfortable with buffers in the several kilometer size, others argue anything larger than 5 meters renders it inaccurate and appropriate to be marked as such.


raymie, due to ongoing drought conditions and more & more exposed lake bed there has been a fence built on at least the southeastern part of Antelope Island to keep the bison from walking to areas outside of the island which isn’t much of an island anymore. There are landbridges. I can’t get to the southwestern part of the island to see if a fence has been built there.

If that’s the case I think I would consider the Antelope Island herd captive.

It is only a partial fence though, where the landbridge would make it possible for the bison to walk off of what used to be an island.

My opinion: I think “Is it useful to spend time and effort flagging bison as captive?” is a relevant question.

Given that:

  • There does not appear to be clear, unanimous consensus regarding whether the bison are captive;
  • The general consensus seems to lean towards the bison being considered wild;
  • There does not seem to be harm caused by having the bison not flagged as captive/cultivated;
  • There does at least seem to be inconvenience caused by flagging them as captive/cultivated, because it is useful to be able to view farmed/ranched bison and managed-but-roaming herds separately;
  • It takes hours to go through and flag the bison as captive;
  • It is even more time-consuming to sort the managed-but-roaming bison BACK out of the captive pile, because they are mixed in with farmed/ranched bison;
    and most of all
  • There is no clear benefit of having the roaming bison marked as captive;

it seems like this exercise is not worth undertaking and perhaps should be actively avoided.


I sure feel that I am!

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in

I’ve been trying to say that for a while now.


I have been thinking about this topic, on and off, and then I thought, if this is the way we (only) should determine between wild or not, then you can dispute almost all, if not all observations of trees and plants in the woods and forests of big parts of Europe (and probably around the world) as NOT WILD, since most woodlands etcetera are either actively managed or otherwise influenced by human kind over the centuries. As far as I understand there is only a few acres of truly WILD forest in The Netherlands. All the rest is NOT WILD??? I still believe they are wild and therefor also think this Bison should be able to stay “wild” in iNat.

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Yes, lots of forest all around the world are managed in some way. I don’t know how managed forests in The Netherlands are, but it is iNat policy that any plant intentionally planted by humans is wild and any plant that grew on its own in captive. Plants that sprouted on their own whose seeds came from intentionally planted plants are still considered wild.

Did you mean that the other way 'round - any plant intentionally planted by humans is captive, and any plant that grew on its own is wild?


Most European trees are planted, so yes, they’ll be cultivateed anyway. There’s little of original forest to find in places where agriculture was active before, even oldest forests are standing on the place of previous crop fields.


Yes, thanks for the catch!

I still find it tricky though. If there is a wild tree in a field and a house is built in that field then a fence put up around the yard including that tree, is the tree now considered cultivated? Or what if conservationists intentionally replant native plants in a grassland to restore it. Are those grasses not wild?

Yes, everything planted is not wild, you can look up numerous topics about cultivated plants, fenced tree is not cultivated as long as people don’t tender it.

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I would indeed say they are not wild. In the areas of the Dominican Republic that I know, I am not sure any trees at all are wild. I see iNat observations of Fence-post tree, and few if any are marked captive/cultivated, but I believe that all of them should be. They certainly did not naturally grow in straight fencerows. Shade trees in the pastures (Mango and Monkey pod) – considering that teams of mowers go out several times a year and cut down any encroaching vegetation, those shade trees, if not outright planted, are certainly actively shielded from competition. It isn’t a wild landscape. I am nearly certain that in order to see anything like a wild landscape in the Dominican Republic, I would have to go to one of the National Parks.

There is an outdated word in English, not used much anymore: wildwood. A wildwood is a woodland that grew on its own rather than being planted as a woodlot. And the fact that English so long ago felt the need for this word should tell you something about how much in that part of the world is actually wild.

If that.