Wildlife managers estimate more than 570 Yellowstone bison have been killed so far this winter between hunters and the annual ship to slaughter, according to state and federal bison management documents.
A Yellowstone National Park bison management report posted online Monday said 179 bison have been transferred to Native American tribes for slaughter and that 359 bison have been killed by hunters as of last Friday. A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks report on hunt numbers compiled two days earlier showed a lower number of confirmed bison harvests, but said that officials believe the total harvest has likely surpassed 400.
The numbers show that bison managers have already surpassed 2016’s confirmed death tally of 534 and are inching toward their goal of removing 1,300 from the Yellowstone herd.
Government officials try to reduce the Yellowstone herd each year because of a 2000 bison management plan that calls for a population of 3,000 bison in the region. About 5,500 live there now.
They go about reducing the population through shipping some bison to slaughter and public hunting. Some hunters are licensed through Native American tribes with treaty hunting rights outside the park and some are licensed through the state of Montana.
The state’s hunting season ended Wednesday. FWP’s report was compiled that morning, and it said state hunters had taken 55 of the bison so far. Hunters from Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have killed 180 bison, the most of any of the five tribes.
Bison that are sent to slaughter are consigned to Native American tribes or the Intertribal Buffalo Council before they leave the park’s capture facility. Tom McDonald, a wildlife manager with the CSKT, said the park was splitting shipments between the ITBC and CSKT as of last Friday, but he couldn’t give exact numbers for how many bison went to each.
The park is still holding 24 bull bison that are slated for a trip to U.S. Department of Agriculture corrals near Corwin Springs. The park originally wanted to send them to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to establish a quarantine program there, but that plan was shelved because of state law requiring they be certified brucellosis free before leaving the Yellowstone region. After time in the corrals at Corwin Springs, those bison may still be sent to Fort Peck.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Veress said Monday that the logistics of moving the bison to Corwin Springs hadn’t been worked out yet.