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Managers Vote to Cull As Many As 700 Yellowstone Bison This Winter

Bison run across the snow in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park on Nov. 5, 2017.
NPS/Neal Herbert (Public Domain)
Bison run across the snow in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park on Nov. 5, 2017.

Officials set a target Wednesday to reduce bison herds living in and around Yellowstone National Park by 500 to 700 animals this winter. The yearly cull is meant to keep the population in check and prevent bison from possibly transmitting a disease to domestic cattle.

Yellowstone National Park biologist Chris Geremia said wildlife officials counted around 4,700 bison in the park this year. He said the population has been “relatively stable since 2013, and it’s somewhat smaller than where it was this time last summer.”

Geremia spoke during a meeting Wednesday with the Interagency Bison Management Plan team, which is made up of state, federal and tribal representatives.

The management plan was created in the 1990s after the state of Montana sued Yellowstone National Parkfor allowing wild bison to leave park boundaries.

The management team uses hunting, shipping bison to slaughter and a quarantine program to keep the Yellowstone bison population from growing outside of limits set to prevent the possibility of bison spreading a bacterial disease called Brucellosis to cattle. It can cause cause abortions, infertility and weight loss.

There hasn’t been a confirmed case of bison spreading brucellosis to cattle in the wild, but wildlife officials say this is in large part due to management.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks allocates 85 bison licenses to non-tribal hunters for two hunting districts near Gardiner and West Yellowstone. Seven tribes exercise treaty rights to hunt bison in Montana: Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and Northern Arapaho Tribe.

Unlike recent years, Geremia said officials this winter will not put more bison in the quarantine program, which ensures bison are disease free before sending to tribes to start or boost conservation herds.

“There’s no space in the quarantine facility. Right now all quarantine pastures are at capacity,” Geremia said.

Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said the park is planning to expand its quarantine facility to accept up to 150 bison by next winter.

“We’re going to be able to put a decent sized investment of our own money with some partner and philanthropic money to increase our quarantine capacity, and that should allow us to take more animals into quarantine in future years,” Sholly said, adding that the quarantine program was recently renamed the Bison Conservation Transfer Program to better reflect its purpose.

Last winter, 280 bison were hunted. Roughly 440 bison were shipped to slaughter and 100 were put into the quarantine program.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Rachel is a UM grad working in the MTPR news department.
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