Montana lawmakers push for tribal bison hunts in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana legislative committee that wants to limit Yellowstone National Park’s growing herds of bison from leaving the park sent a recommendation Thursday to park officials for Native American tribes to be allowed to hunt bison inside the park.

The committee’s letter to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk came a day after members voted 9-7 in favor of the plan — even though there are no requests by the tribes to hunt inside the park.

Tribal representatives said Thursday they already have enough opportunities to hunt the animals outside the park.

“The idea of gunning down animals in the Lamar Valley or near Old Faithful is nothing the tribes have proposed or are considering,” said John Harrison, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Supporters of tribal bison hunts inside the park including Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton pitched the idea as a potential solution to the dilemma posed by bison leaving Yellowstone and getting onto private property.

Democrats objected, pointing out that no tribes have asked to hunt inside the park.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said longstanding policy prohibits hunting in national parks unless specifically authorized by Congress.

 Any tribes wanting to assert treaty rights to hunt in Yellowstone would have to submit the request to the U.S. Justice Department for consideration, she said.

Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association said state officials had missed an opportunity to push for expanded habitat for bison outside the park. Under a program in place since 2000, thousands of the animals have been captured and sent to slaughter after they enter Montana.

Several tribes with longstanding treaty rights hold annual bison hunts just outside Yellowstone’s boundary.

Those hunts have stirred controversy — with bison often shot immediately after stepping beyond the park boundary — while failing to reduce the size of Yellowstone’s herds. Yellowstone at last count had roughly 5,000 bison, a near-record level for the modern era.

Many Yellowstone bison carry a disease, brucellosis, that can be harmful to livestock and cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort their young. However, no bison-to-cattle transmissions of the disease brucellosis have been recorded.

Yellowstone rejected requests from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to allow public hunting inside the park when the Democrat was still in office.


9 thoughts on “Montana lawmakers push for tribal bison hunts in Yellowstone

  1. We know that the ranchers want to get rid of the bison and that hunters are more than willing to blast away. But there have been complaints about the killing and demands to leave the bison alone. Maybe the new proposal is based on the idea that there will be more support if the hunters are Native Americans, although many of their groups would like the animals left alone.

  2. There is always leniency for cultural mores even if they’re outdated and cruel. The Makah were permitted to hunt their first orca in 1998 and now gray whales in Puget Sound. It just gets worse.

  3. There has never been a case of known or discovered brucellosis transmission from wild bison to cattle in natural conditions. Yet, since 1985 approximately 4000 bison from the GYA have been sent to slaughter. Wild bison seem to have an immunity, and while 45% may test serologic positive, meaning they have been exposed, few test positive on a culture screen. Brucellosis cannot survive long in sunlight or heat, drastically reducing exposure potential. The distribution of cattle around GYA make exposure a very remote possibility. When cattle are grazing and bison are grazing outside the Park is mostly not coinciding. Only first time pregnant cows giving birth pose a risk at all if they are actively infected. Predators cleaning up after birth further reduces exposure potential. All factors combined reduce exposure potential to practically zero. There might be other rationales for keeping the Yellowstone bison numbers in check (@ 4000-3000) but brucellosis is not a legitimate one. In Grand Teton National Park, where cattle and bison have coexisted for decades there has not been a case of transmission. Alternative solutions to bison coming out of the Park to graze is to allow them them plenty of areas (SMA’s) to do so and to distribute excess bison other places in Montana such as reservations, preserves, open ranges, motivated ranches, give cattle calf inoculations. Elk may be an emerging problem, elk state feeding grounds (farming target sports animals), migrations among herds, may pose a risk (man made) on the other hand, but a greatly exaggerated one.

    Bison & Brucellosis References:

    GYA Greater Yellowstone Area
    SMA Special Management Area

    Brucellosis in Wild Bison Fact Sheet – Buffalo Field Campaign › Factsheets

    Transmission of Brucellosis from Elk to Cattle and Bison ……/…United States Centers for Disease Control and Preve…
    Dec 12, 2013 –

    Second Case of Brucellosis Found in Montana Cattle. Not ……/second-case-of-brucellosis-found-in-monta...
    Oct 7, 2013 –

    • The only reason ranchers get away with this is because people don’t know, and/or it isn’t important enough to them. I mean, who cares about lies and needless killing of wildlife when football season is coming up?

  4. This sounds suspiciously like Nevada’s Cattle Ranching Wild Horse Advisory Board wanting to kill 45,000 wild horses because ranchers don’t want them on the landscape, and wiping out wolves too. These people are only interested in Native American rights if there is a benefit to themselves. Brucellosis hasn’t been seen in years, and I question that it ever really was a problem. I’m glad the tribal representatives said thanks but no thanks.

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