Understanding the relative importance of density-dependent and density-independent feedback on population growth is essential for developing management strategies to conserve wildlife. We examined a 99-year time series of annual counts and removals for 2 bison (Bison bison) herds occupying northern and central Yellowstone National Park in the western United States. Yellowstone's aggressive management intervention effectively recovered bison from 46 animals in 1902 to >1,500 animals in 1954. Supplemental feeding of the northern herd facilitated rapid growth (r = 0.16) during 1902 to 1952. Augmentation of the central herd with 71 animals also led to rapid growth over 1936 to 1954 (r = 0.10). In 1969, manipulative management ceased in the park, and we detected evidence of density-dependent changes in population growth rates for both herds during 1970 to 2000 as numbers increased to >3,000 animals. The central herd showed evidence of a constant density-dependent response over 1970 to 2000. In contrast, density dependence had a stronger effect on the northern herd's growth rate during 1970 to 1981 than during 1982 to 2000. We found evidence to suggest that these trends resulted from pulses of emigration from the central herd to the northern range beginning in 1982 in response to resource limitation generated by an interaction between density and severe snow pack. Corroborative evidence supporting this interpretation included 1) the annual growth of the central herd was negatively correlated with snow pack but that of the northern herd was not, 2) growth rates of the central and northern herds were uncorrelated during 1970 to 1981 but significantly and negatively correlated during 1982 to 2000, and 3) the northern herd could not have sustained the high removals experienced during 1984 to 2000 without immigration. Density-related emigration from the central herd to the northern range may be fueling bison emigration onto private and public lands where large-scale removals occur, exacerbating the brucellosis controversy for natural resource managers.
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