The Buffalo War

presented by ITVS

Lesson Plan Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Brucellosis in Bison: How Serious is the Threat?

9th or 10th grade biology

Materials Needed
Extension Activities
Correlation to National Standards


This lesson involves research into both sides of the brucellosis problem and ends with students presenting their position through letters written to Montana's Department of Livestock.

Estimated Time: one or two 90 minute blocks (one to show film and to research, one for composition-which could be assigned as homework)

Lesson Objectives:

Students will
  • Understand what the brucellosis disease is, how it is transmitted, and why it is a problem for cattle ranchers in Montana
  • Evaluate the methods used by Montana's Department of Livestock to control brucellosis
  • Compose a letter expressing a viewpoint.
Materials needed:
  • VCR and TV
  • Internet access

I. To generate ideas for class discussion, start with this True/False quiz to find out what students may already know.
  • Buffalo are extinct. (False.)
  • There is no difference between a buffalo and a bison. (False. Buffalo technically refers to a species in Africa and Asia, but the two names are often used interchangeably.)
  • Bison are the largest terrestrial mammals in North America. (True)
  • Most of the North America's bison are found on commercial ranches. (True)
  • The last free-roaming herd of bison found in Yellowstone National Park is in the center of a major controversy. (True.)
II. Show the video THE BUFFALO WAR. If time is available, I recommend showing the entire video (60 minutes), but showing the first 25 minutes of the video, ending at Patrick Collin's statement, "...we've found Montana consistently backs away" should be sufficient.

III. Discuss the content of the video with the class to make sure that students understand the following:
  • What is the issue at stake?
  • What are the different groups involved?
  • What is each group doing?
  • What are the motivations for each group?
IV. Direct students to find out more about brucellosis and to evaluate the situation. Have them explore the following link: Other useful sites with information and viewpoints can be found at:
V. After their research, students should then choose a viewpoint - either cattle rancher, Native American, or environmentalist - and compose a letter expressing their views to Montana's Department of Livestock. The letter must clearly state their position and include supporting facts and details found in the websites or other sources.

  • Participation in discussion
  • Letter contains a clearly stated viewpoint and logical supporting, factual details.
  • Create a pamphlet advocating your viewpoint.
  • Create an informational website on the bison/brucellosis problem
  • Make posters expressing your views.
Correlation to National Standards:
(from National Science Education Standards)
Content Standard C: Interdependence of Organisms
Human beings live within the world's ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption.

Organisms both cooperate and compete in ecosystems. The interrelationships and interdependencies of these organisms may generate ecosystems that are stable for hundreds or thousands of years.

Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Understanding basic concepts and principles of science and technology should precede active debate about the economics, policies, politics, and ethics of various science- and technology-related challenges.

Humans have a major effect on other species. For example, the influence of humans on other organisms occurs through land use - which decreases space available to other species - and pollution - which changes the chemical composition of air, soil, and water.
Lesson Plan Author

Victoria Babcock teaches biology, honors biology, zoology and botany at DeSoto High School in DeSoto, Missouri, just south of St. Louis. Prior to teaching at DeSoto she taught physical science and biology at Hannibal High School where she also coached the Academic Team and sponsored Science Club. She has also worked as an educator for the St. Louis Science Center. She has written several science and health lesson plans for PBS programs, including Frontline and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

The Buffalo War Guides Resources The Film Talkback In Their Shoes The War The Buffalo The Story