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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Yellowstone Begins Culling Bison That Enter Montana

Bison walking through deep snow.
Jim Peaco
National Park Service
Bison walking through deep snow.

Yellowstone National Park has started capturing bison near the park's north entrance and bison advocates have sued to stop it.

Disease management and carrying capacity are at the center of the operation.

Park spokesman Al Nash says a total of 800 to 900 bison that migrate out of the park could be removed.

"We're doing so to be able to approach the target bison population and to see if we can reduce the potential for a mass-migration of bison into Montana where there is still some limited tolerance."

A multiagency bison management plan calls for a target population of no more than 3,500 animals in the park. A late-summer population count put Yellowstone's current bison population at about 4,900.

Nash says state-permitted and tribal hunters will be the primary method of eliminating the animals.

"But we know that they won't take more than probably 350 bison. So, as some bison approach the park boundary, or cross it, we are herding them into the Stephens Creek facility. They'll be transferred to tribes, transported to slaughter houses and their meat and parts will be distributed to tribal members for nutrition and for cultural practices."    

The park captures bison and Montana allows them to be hunted because of concerns over Brucellosis. It can cause disease in humans and the livestock industry fears bison will infect cattle. Critics say there's never been a documented case of Brucellosis transmission in the wild between bison and domestic cattle.

The Buffalo Field Campaign and Friends of Animals Wildlife Law program filed suit Thursday against the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to stop the capture operation. They don’t think any bison should be captured or killed.

Buffalo Field Campaign's Stephanie Seay describes this capture operation as a "killing spree."

This is an animal which is red-listed, threatened with near extinction. Even the state of Montana considers them a species of great concern, vulnerable to extinction or extirpation. None of the science matches up with what the management actions are carrying out."

An updated state bison management plan is in the early stages of development. The Buffalo Field Campaign thinks the state should take a more "hands-off" approach.

"They don't need a plan. Eventually at some point when the herd is a viable population, we can use hunting as a management tool, but it's only gonna happen if we stand back and let these bison restore themselves on the landscape."

I asked Seay if the Buffalo Field Campaign will use civil disobedience to interfere with the current bison capture operation.

Seay: [chuckles] "We're going to be on the ground."

O'Brien: "So, what's that mean? Is that a yes or a no?"

Seay: "We're going to be on the ground documenting and doing what we do."

In the past, members of the Campaign have chained themselves to gates and used other tactics to try to stop the capture and hunting of bison.

Capture operations as mandated by the Interagency Bison Management Plan have been in effect since 2001.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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