Montana Public Radio

Lawsuit Challenges The Safety Of Yellowstone-Area Bison Hunt

Oct 22, 2019

A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday is challenging a long-contested bison hunt near Yellowstone National Park.

A group of Gardiner residents says the annual winter bison hunt just north of the park is unsafe for property owners, hunters, and tourists.

The suit filed in the District of Columbia against the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service asks a federal judge to stop the hunt scheduled to start in mid November.

Jared Pettinato is the attorney for Neighbors Against Bison Slaughter.

“They’re worried about this hunt in a very concentrated area where the bison, as soon as they step off of Yellowstone National Park land onto Forest Service land, the hunters gun them down,” Pettinato says.

The hunt takes place in Beattie Gulch, a roughly half-square mile route that bottlenecks the path of migrating bison.

Pettinato says the lawsuit aims at forcing federal agencies to redesign the hunt and move it further away from private residences in the gulch.

"And that could mean allowing bison to roam farther from where they are,” Pettinato says.

The dense hunting of bison in the area has long worried some locals. But not all are endorsing the lawsuit challenging the hunt.

Nathan Varley lives in Gardiner and is the president of the Bear Creek Council, a conservation group in the town.

Varley says he doesn’t want the lawsuit to undermine conversations about how to improve the hunt.

“I am concerned that partners may be forced into positions that they may not have taken under the current scenario with just dialogue and kinda working within the system,” Varley says.

Those partners include state, federal and tribal nations that make up the Interagency Bison Management Plan, a multi-agency effort to guide bison management in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Tribal nations have treaty rights to hunt in Montana, and tribal hunts make up a large portion of the winter bison hunt in the area.

Marna Daley with the Custer Gallatin National Forest says the lawsuit could impact tribal hunts. Daley says the Interagency Bison Management Plan group has worked to make the hunt safe.

“We have area closures in place to ensure safe shooting distances and certainly to enforce the Custer Gallatin food storage order, and those are just a few examples,” Daley says.

According to attorney Jared Pettinato, Neighbors Against Bison Slaughter formed in part to sue over the hunt. He declined to identify the groups members for privacy reasons.