The Grazing Dilemma: Can Yellowstone’s Cows Eat Clover Safely?


Yellowstone National Park is home to a diverse array of native plant species, including the abundant and nutritious white clover. However, recent studies have raised concerns about the potential negative impact of clover consumption on the park’s grazing wildlife, particularly the park’s iconic bison and elk herds.

The Clover Conundrum

White clover is a common and important forage plant in Yellowstone, providing essential nutrients for the park’s herbivores. However, it also contains compounds known as cyanogenic glycosides, which can release cyanide when metabolized. While these compounds are not generally harmful to most mammals, there is evidence to suggest that they can affect the health and reproductive success of some of Yellowstone’s grazing animals, particularly bison and elk.

Research and Findings

Research conducted by the Yellowstone National Park’s Wildlife Health Program has indicated that the consumption of high levels of clover by grazing animals can lead to decreased body condition, reduced reproductive success, and even increased mortality rates. This has raised concerns about the long-term health and viability of the park’s bison and elk populations, as well as other grazing wildlife that rely on clover as a primary food source.

Potential Solutions

One potential solution to the clover conundrum is the introduction of alternative forage plants that provide similar nutritional benefits without the risk of cyanide toxicity. This could involve the planting of native grasses and forbs that are less likely to cause negative health effects in grazing wildlife. Additionally, efforts to manage and monitor clover populations in the park could help to mitigate the potential risks associated with its consumption by herbivores.


The Grazing Dilemma in Yellowstone National Park presents a complex and challenging issue that requires careful consideration and management. While clover is an important source of nutrition for the park’s grazing animals, its potential negative impact on their health and reproductive success cannot be ignored. By continuing to study the effects of clover consumption and implementing proactive management strategies, it is possible to find a balance that allows Yellowstone’s wildlife to safely coexist with this valuable forage plant.

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