Bison Slaughter, Stephens Creek Bison Capture Facility

In this undated file photo, National Park Service workers move bison into a hydraulic chute where biologists determined the sex, weight, age and took blood samples from about 60 bison before they were loaded on trailers and sent to slaughter at the Stephens Creek Bison Capture Facility.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo.— Three bison slaughter protesters who were arrested here earlier this month will be banned from Yellowstone National Park for five years after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges Monday.

Hannah Ponder, Cody Cyson and Thomas Brown appeared in U.S. District Court at Mammth Hot Springs after nearly a week in jail following their arrest near the park’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility, where bison are trapped and readied for slaughter. The area around the facility is closed to the public.

Ponder, 22, pleaded guilty to entering a closed area of the park. Cyson, 25, and Brown, 36, pleaded guilty to entering a closed area and interfering with an agency function.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman ordered Ponder to pay fines and fees totaling $1,040. Carman ordered Brown and Cyson to pay $1,050 each. All three will be placed on unsupervised probation for five years and will be barred from entering the park until the end of their probation. They were released around noon on Monday.

During the hearing, Carman said the three people had a lot of passion but that he felt it was misdirected. He said the incident was “a case to make a point” but that it didn’t further their goals.

“It doesn’t stop what’s happening at Stephens Creek,” Carman said. “It doesn’t save any of the bison.”

Ponder said Yellowstone’s bison are managed with a population cap that intends to keep their number well below the biological carrying capacity of the park, which she feels is unjust. Population reduction efforts include capture-for-slaughter.

“The Stephens Creek Facility is a tool of gross mismanagement,” Ponder said.

Park law enforcement arrested the three protesters at Stephens Creek last week when they were protesting the slaughter of bison. According to charging documents, a ranger found Brown and Cyson chained to the squeeze chute there early on March 6. They were apparently trying to block the shipment of bison to slaughter, which was scheduled for later that morning.

A few hours later, rangers arrested Ponder for being inside the closure area. U.S. District Attorney Lee Pico said Monday that Ponder appeared to be “acting as something of a lookout.”

They appeared in court the next day. Carman ordered that they stay in jail until Monday’s hearing.

Chris Lundberg, an attorney representing all three, said the jail stay was quite long for people without a criminal history of violence or property damage.

“I think the government has gotten the point across,” Lundberg said.

The three protesters are with a group called Wild Buffalo Defense, which describes itself as a collective focused on ending the slaughter of wild bison and protecting the treaty rights of Native Americans. Cyson, an Ojibwe man from Minnesota, was arrested twice last year for protesting the construction of oil pipelines in Wisconsin.

Wild Buffalo Defense is raising money online to pay the protesters’ court fines.

Bison are killed annually by hunters and through capture-for-slaughter because a multi-agency management plan calls for a bison population around 3,000. Yellowstone biologists estimated the population at about 4,800 last fall.

As of last week, more than 550 had been culled. At least 328 of those had been shipped to slaughter. Meat from slaughtered bison goes to Native American tribes.

There are many critics of the slaughter program. A group of them attended Monday’s hearing, filling about half the seats in the small courtroom.

“I think that it’s a shame that these people are being punished for their actions rather than celebrated,” said Stephany Seay, of the Buffalo Field Campaign.

Seay and the others waited outside after the hearing. Shortly after noon, Brown, Cyson and Ponder walked out, greeted by hugs and smiles.

Michael Wright can be reached at or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

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