Yellowstone bison hunt takes most since ‘89

BILLINGS, Mont. — Hunters killed more wild bison migrating from Yellowstone National Park this season than they have in decades, with the numbers driven by strong participation from American Indians who harvest the animals under longstanding treaty rights.

Roughly 250 bison have been killed this season after leaving Yellowstone for low-elevation winter range in Montana. Combined with a mild winter, the means there’s unlikely to be a repeat this year of the wholesale slaughters that have killed thousands of bison in the last two decades in the name of disease control.

Tribal and state officials said Friday that should provide some relief for the park’s burgeoning bison herds, which leave Yellowstone in fewer number during mild winters.

Still, hunting carries its own challenges, beyond criticism from some animal advocates.

After scores of gut piles from harvested bison were found outside the park’s northern boundary near the town of Gardiner, wildlife officials removed 8,000 pounds of bison waste to avoid a situation in which the waste would attract grizzly bears now emerging from their winter dens.

In recent years, government agencies that oversee the bison have moved away from their past policy of capturing bison for slaughter or hazing them back into the park as soon as they cross the Montana boundary.

As a result, bison can again access tens of thousands of acres of historic grazing areas — and hunters have more chance to shoot them.

“This season has been really, really busy,” said Keith Lawrence, wildlife division director for Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe.

Since 2006, members of the Nez Perce have travelled to Montana to hunt bison under the terms of an 1855 government treaty that recognized the Yellowstone area as a traditional tribal hunting ground.

Several other tribes with treaty rights also participate. Combined the tribe’s members killed more than 200 bison this year.

For Lawrence, that’s much preferred to shipping bison to slaughter, which the tribe argues violates its rights by removing animals that hunters otherwise could harvest.

“We would like to see the population at a level where there’s an annual migration,” he said, adding that the tribe “is not interested in seeing a gross movement of animals” to slaughter.

A limited slaughter still is possible, officials said, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking up to 63 bison this year for use in an experimental animal contraception program.

Many bison carry the disease brucellosis. If transmitted to cattle, brucellosis can cause the animals to prematurely abort their calves.

Despite recent changes in federal policy that eased trade sanctions against states where brucellosis is found in cattle, Montana’s livestock industry and its supporters are pushing to restore restrictions that would keep bison in the park.

That includes so-called “zero tolerance” bison legislation pending before the Montana Legislature and a lawsuit that would reverse the state’s decision to allow the animals to roam largely free in the 75,000-acre Gardiner Basin.

The state is fighting the lawsuit and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has come out against to the zero tolerance measure. Wildlife officials say stringent limits on where bison are allowed harkens back to the late 1980s, when the state encouraged hunters to kill every bison that crossed the Montana line.

That resulted in a record 489 bison killed in 1989, but also trigged an international outcry that led to the cancellation of bison hunting until it resumed in 2005.

Hunting is not allowed inside the park, so Yellowstone administrators rely on the killing of animals that migrate into Montana to keep the population in check. Officials set a target of removing 400 bison this year, from a population estimated at 4,200 animals before the hunting season.

The tribal hunts, conducted under long-standing treaty rights, are expected to continue through the end of March. State-licensed hunters took 37 bison during a season that ended Feb. 15.

“Our goal was to as much as possible manage the population level through hunting as opposed to other means,” said Pat Flowers, the Yellowstone region supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “If we can have a more consistent removal out of the park, we can get the population back down near the target of 3,000 to 3,500 bison.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

King County map logo
Tribal members dance to start an assemble on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day Friday evening at Tulalip Gathering Hall in Tulalip, Washington on September 30, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Still here’: Tulalip boarding school descendants celebrate resilience

On Orange Shirt Day, a national day of remembrance, the Tulalip Tribes honored those who suffered due to violent cultural suppression.

Councilmember Megan Dunn, left, stands next to County Executive Dave Somers as he presents his 2023 budget proposal to her, Councilmember Nate Nehring and Councilmember Sam Low. (Snohomish County)
As County Council begins budget talks, here’s how you can weigh in.

Department heads will make their pitches in the next few days. Residents will get a say at a forum and two hearings this month

Representative Rick Larsen speaks at the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday, June 11, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Larsen to hold community meeting in Everett on Monday

The veteran Democratic lawmaker will address recent legislation passed by Congress and other topics.

Everett
Everett gets state Auditor’s Office stewardship award

State Auditor Pat McCarthy presented the award during the most recent Everett City Council meeting.

Food forum
Cookie bars fit for hungry fishermen

Laurie Olsen makes these decadent bars for her fisherman husband and crew aboard the St. John II.

Dan Stucki grabs a free coffee from Espresso Chalet before heading out on his first day to assess the Bolt Creek Fire on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Stucki served as a division supervisor and traveled from Utah to help contain the fire. He's been a firefighter for 21 years. (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)
Gold Bar coffee shop fuels hundreds of firefighters amid Bolt Creek blaze

The massive blaze threatened Espresso Chalet. That didn’t stop owners Mark and Sandy Klein from giving firefighters free cups of coffee.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
$500M-plus from opioid deal starts heading to Washington

The first settlement payments will begin reaching Washington communities in December.

Former television food personality Graham Kerr meets with residents of Windsor Square Senior Living before giving a presentation on Thursday, Sep. 15, 2022, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
At 88, TV chef ‘Galloping Gourmet’ still sizzles with the ladies

Graham Kerr, the granddad of cooking entertainment shows in the 1960s, calls Snohomish County home.

Most Read