Bison kill planned for Grand Canyon

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/science/ct-shoot-grand-canyon-bison-20170911-story.html

Felicia FonsecaAssociated Press

The National Park Service plans to thin a herd of bison in the Grand Canyon through roundups and by seeking volunteers who are physically fit and proficient with a gun to kill the animals that increasingly are damaging park resources.

Some bison would be shipped out of the area and others legally hunted on the adjacent forest. Within the Grand Canyon, shooters would be selected through a lottery to help bring the number of bison roaming the far northern reaches of the park to no more than 200 within three to five years.

About 600 of the animals now live in the region, and biologists say the bison numbers could hit 1,500 within 10 years if left uncontrolled.

The Grand Canyon is still working out details of the volunteer effort, but it’s taking cues from national parks in Colorado, the Dakotas and Wyoming that have used shooters to cut overabundant or diseased populations of elk. The Park Service gave final approval to the bison reduction plan this month.

Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club says she’s hopeful Grand Canyon will focus mostly on nonlethal removal.

The Grand Canyon bison are descendants of those introduced to northern Arizona in the early 1900s as part of a ranching operation to crossbreed them with cattle. The state of Arizona now owns them and has an annual draw for tags on the Kaibab National Forest. Nearly 1,500 people applied for one of 122 tags this year, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The bison have been moving in recent years within the Grand Canyon boundaries where open hunting is prohibited. Park officials say they’re trampling on vegetation and spoiling water resources. The reduction plan would allow volunteers working in a team with a Park Service employee to shoot bison using non-lead ammunition to protect endangered California condors that feed on gut piles.

Hunters cannot harvest more than one bison in their lifetime through the state hunt, making the volunteer effort intriguing, they say.

“I would go if I had a chance to retain a portion of the meat,” said Travis McClendon, a hunter in Cottonwood. “It definitely would be worth going, especially with a group.”

Grand Canyon is working with state wildlife officials and the Intertribal Buffalo Council to craft guidelines for roundups and volunteer shooters, who would search for bison in the open, said Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson.

Much of the work would be done on foot in elevations of 8,000 feet or higher between October and May when the road leading to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is closed. Snowmobiles and sleds would be used to remove the bison meat, and helicopters in rare instances, park officials said.

Carl Lutch, the terrestrial wildlife manager for Game and Fish in Flagstaff, said some models require volunteers to be capable of hiking eight miles a day, carrying a 60-pound pack and hitting a paper plate 200 yards away five times.

The head and hide of the bison would be given to tribes, or federal and state agencies.

Lutch said one scenario discussed is splitting the bison meat among volunteers, with each volunteer able to take the equivalent of meat from one full bison. Anything in excess of that would be given to tribes and charities, he said. A full-grown bull can have hundreds of pounds of meat.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota used volunteers in 2010 for elk reduction, selecting 240 people from thousands of applicants, said park spokeswoman Eileen Andes. Some quit before the week was over, she said.

“We had quite a bit of snow, so you’re not in a vehicle, you’re not on a horse,” she said. “You’re hiking through snow to shoot elk and haul them out. It was exceedingly strenuous.”

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune
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Slaughter Of Yellowstone Bison At The Center Of Culture War

In the same year that Congress voted to make bison the national mammal, Yellowstone National Park had its second largest cull ever — reducing the heard by more than 1,200 animals.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Americans have always liked the idea of bison, but living with them is another matter. In the same year Congress made bison the national mammal, more than 1,200 were culled from the Yellowstone National Park herd. Amy Martin reports on why the U.S. is killing so many of the animals it also idealizes.

AMY MARTIN, BYLINE: Thirty miles north of Yellowstone is a place called Paradise Valley. Picture snowy peaks, a winding river, big sweeping meadows…

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS MOOING)

MARTIN: …And cows. Drusca Kinkie runs a cattle ranch here.

DRUSCA KINKIE: I think the concept of free-roaming bison will harm agriculture immensely.

MARTIN: The annual bison cull in Yellowstone attracts controversy every year, and this winter was the second biggest ever. But Kinkie supports the reduction of the herd.

KINKIE: There’s a disease issue with bison. They’ve been exposed to brucellosis.

MARTIN: Brucellosis is a bacterial disease, which elk and bison in the Yellowstone area originally caught from livestock. Kinkie says the threat of transmission back to cattle looms large. And it’s that fear that drove the state of Montana to sue Yellowstone in 1995, forcing the park to ship more animals to slaughter. But there’s more going on here than just disease. Bison are caught in the culture wars. Kinkie says she feels misunderstood.

KINKIE: You have all these people out there fighting for free-roaming bison. And it’s a concept. It’s a vision that they have. And we’re fighting for our ability to survive here and make a living as we have for the last 60, almost 70 years. And they don’t have anything to lose in their vision. And we have everything to lose in ours.

ROBBIE MAGNAN: Buffalo has taken care of Native Americans since the beginning of time.

MARTIN: Robbie Magnan says there is a lot to lose on the other side. He’s the director of the Fish and Wildlife Department for the Fort Peck Tribes in northeastern Montana. For him, the culture wars started much further back when Europeans first arrived in North America and more than 50 million wild bison roamed the continent.

MAGNAN: The federal government massacred them because they figured out that was the only way to bring the Indians down to their knees – it was destroy their economy. And that’s why they were almost wiped out.

MARTIN: Now, only about 30,000 bison are protected in North America and, of those, less than half are living in anything close to wild conditions. As Magnan drives up into the hills of the reservation, he says wild bison are an important part of the country’s heritage. That’s why he helped to develop an alternative to slaughter.

MAGNAN: Instead of massacring these animals when they migrate out of the park in the wintertime when they’re hungry, OK, let’s get them out alive and start other cultural herds going.

MARTIN: To do that, the Fort Peck Tribes built a 320-acre brucellosis-quarantined pasture surrounded by extra high fences. Here, the Yellowstone bison can be held and tested and many eventually declared brucellosis free. Last year, the National Park Service said it supported using the facility, but then Magnan says…

MAGNAN: After they found out it works, they quit it. And why quit something when you know it works?

MARTIN: The person responsible for answering that question is Sue Masica, who oversees this region of the park service. But she declined requests for an interview.

Those guys are moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many did you count? Yeah, they’re going.

RICK WALLEN: I’m guessing there’s 200-plus.

MARTIN: Rick Wallen is the team leader for the park’s bison management program. He’s watching a large bison herd move quickly down the valley of the Yellowstone River. It’s a cold day and their dark shapes stand out against the snow. Despite the beauty, the mood is intense. For most of the year, Wallen studies these animals. But every winter, he manages their slaughter.

WALLEN: There is a cost, and that cost is more emotional for some than others. I’ve even had people on days that we were supposed to go there and do the work call and say, you know, I can’t do this anymore. I have to resign my position. I’m sorry.

MARTIN: Wallen thinks a better solution would be quarantine. That would allow him to do what he says is his job.

WALLEN: Protect the wild in wild bison. Otherwise, they go extinct.

MARTIN: That extinction comes in the form of domestication. Bison are increasingly raised as livestock and bred with cattle to make them more docile. Wallen says Yellowstone is a bulwark against this trend, a place where bison still have to use their instincts to survive in the wild. For NPR News, I’m Amy Martin in Yellowstone National Park.

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Meanwhile: Bison cull in Yellowstone nearing 1,000 on the year

Hooves plodded through an alleyway toward the trailer. A park ranger standing on a catwalk above the alleyway counted the individual units of Yellowstone’s population of the country’s national mammal as each entered the trailer. When the trailer filled, a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service placed locks on the trailer doors, a legal requirement and symbol that the trucks could travel on Montana’s roads.

This routine played out three times, and when the final trailer was loaded and sealed, the trucks took off. Another 45 Yellowstone bison off to slaughterhouses, where they’ll become meat for various Native American tribes. But that wasn’t the end of the day for the workers here — there were another 60 or so to prepare for shipment.

It was just another day at the park’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility, where bison are caught for slaughter each year. Park officials brought a group of bison advocates here Wednesday to watch. This season has been busier than the last, as harsh winter conditions have pushed more bison downhill from Mammoth Hot Springs than in recent years. The number of bison killed is approaching 1,000.

“And the winter’s not over,” said Rick Wallen, a Yellowstone bison biologist.

This all happens because of an agreement between the state of Montana and the park that calls for a population of 3,000 bison in the Yellowstone area. About 5,500 live there now. Officials want to remove as many as 1,400 from the population this year.

They cull the herd through public hunting and shipping bison to slaughter. Whether enough bison can be killed to reach the goal depends on how many bison migrate into the Gardiner basin — where the trap is and one place where they can be legally hunted.

Both hunters and the slaughter operation have reaped the benefits of this year’s large migration. Andrea Jones, a spokeswoman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said hunters from five tribal nations and some licensed through the state have confirmed the take of 417 bison this winter.

Wallen said roughly 650 bison have been caught for slaughter so far and about 400 have been shipped, an average of roughly 100 per week since the beginning of February. That means they are approaching the goal, and since more shipments are scheduled and capture for slaughter is scheduled to run through March, they may reach a point where the work can stop.

“We’re going to have to make some hard decisions,” Wallen said.

Shipping bison to slaughter has long been controversial, and some of the most outspoken critics of the practice watched it happen Wednesday. Once the trucks full of bison left, the spectators were back on the tour bus. They watched from inside the bus as a vintage Chevrolet Blazer and four rangers on horseback lined up behind a corral full of bison.

“They call this domestication before assassination,” said Mike Mease, of the Buffalo Field Campaign.

The SUV and the men on horseback chased the bison into the narrow alleyways of the facility and into a holding pen. One-by-one, the bison entered a hydraulic squeeze chute.

Before operations began this year, park officials stamped parts of the chute with “2016-2017” in white lettering. They put that there so photos from the operations correlate with the correct year. That grew out of displeasure with old photos of bison wearing nose tongs surfacing online. Nose tongs haven’t been used here since the mid-2000s, park spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said.

Cattle producers worry bison could lead to transmit the disease to their herds, and even the perception of disease risk near their herds could subject ranchers to increased testing to ensure meat from infected animals doesn’t end up in grocery stores.

The disease is passed primarily through afterbirth. About half of Yellowstone bison are believed to have been exposed to the disease, though exposure doesn’t mean infection. Elk have transmitted the disease, but there has never been a documented case of bison transmitting the disease to livestock.

“A very small number of animals are truly threatening,” Wallen said.

After the blood sample is taken, the machine weighs the animal. Then, the animal is sorted into a pen based on weight and sex. Some come in bloodied, missing a horn or with a gash in their side.

Suspended above them is a ring of aluminum beer cans — Rainier in one pen, Pabst Blue Ribbon in another. Each ring is connected to a rope stretched across the pen. When it’s time to move bison out, park employees will use the rope and beer can halo to chase them. Until then, the bison wait their turn to board trailers some cold morning.

Bull Bison Brutally Stabbed by Hunters

(Warning: Contains Graphic Images)

On February 21, 2017 Crow, Cindy and I were on patrol in the afternoon heading up Jardine Road when we came upon two bull bison grazing beside the road. We stopped for a few moments to admire them. We also had severe reservations on their safety.

We continued to drive up Jardine Road to one of the lookout points and were checking on recent remains of bison kills. We heard five gunshots and our hearts sank.

It took about ten minutes to drive down Jardine Road and discover what we had feared. There were no hunting vehicles present, but we saw three teenagers and one younger boy situated about 50 yards up an incline from the road. They were busy gutting one of the bulls.

 

Bison Slaughter 1

 

We then spotted the other bull only 15 yards from the road. Cindy thought it was still breathing and Crow confirmed. Crow and Cindy immediately walked up to the teenagers to tell them this bull was still alive.

 

Bison Slaughter 2

 

The teenagers came down to the suffering bull with knives in their hands and immediately proceeded to stab him in the neck. The bull immediately jumped to his knees and everyone scattered. The bull fell down, but was actively moving its legs and head.

 

Bison Slaughter 3

 

The teenagers once again proceeded to stab him in the neck several more times.

 

Bison Slaughter 4
Bison Slaughter 5

 

He fought for his life as they stabbed him, raising his legs and hindquarters toward the sky in a desperate attempt to get away from his attackers.

 

Bison Slaughter 6
Bison Slaughter 8

 

The teenagers were giving up.

Then the adult hunters arrived. One of the hunters walked up to the struggling bull and shot it.

 

Bison Slaughter 9

 

The three of us are incredibly distraught at having to witness such a horrendous scene. I am certain that we will never forget the experience.

These two magnificent bulls had spent their lives living within Yellowstone. They lived their lives grazing and strolling along the rivers and roads of the park. They had become immune to vehicles and people. They lacked a fear mechanism that would allow them to avoid or defend themselves from such a brutal attack. When these two magnificent bison migrated across the park boundary, they were just strolling along a road and grazing like they always did. Hunters then pulled-up in a truck and shot them from a few yards away. This murder continued with the brutal stabbing and final slaughter of one of them. There is no skill to this type of “hunting,” which is really nothing more than a slaughter.

Witnessing this brutality makes me wonder how many other bison have succumbed to a similar death.

With the Buffalo,

Larry A. Lyons
BFC Volunteer

Tribal hunters have taken roughly 25 elk near Yellowstone: A group of teenagers seen stabbing wounded bison as it writhed on the ground

In addition to shooting bison, tribal hunters near the Yellowstone National Park border have been killing elk.

Hunters from the Nez Perce Tribe have killed roughly 25 elk near Gardiner this winter, according to multiple sources, in addition to dozens of bison. It’s the second consecutive year reports of hunters taking elk have surfaced. The hunters are legally allowed to kill game animals on public land in the area because of a treaty, but the activity has some Gardiner residents ticked off.

Bill Hoppe, a resident of the area, said four elk were recently shot near his house. He said allowing the tribal hunters to kill elk outside of Montana’s regular elk season is unfair to regular Montana hunters.

“They ought to buy tags just like everybody else has to buy tags,” Hoppe said.

A Nez Perce Tribe wildlife official declined to comment, directing questions to the tribe’s executive committee. A committee member could not be reached before deadline.

Hunters licensed through the state and five separate tribal nations hunt bison in the Gardiner basin each year as the animals migrate out of Yellowstone National Park. It’s part of an effort to reduce the number of bison in the park, and it’s used alongside the capture-for-slaughter operations. Prior to this year’s hunt and cull, biologists estimated there were about 5,500 bison in the park. Thanks in part to a large migration, hunters have now taken more than 400 bison.

The five tribal nations hunt there based on rights granted in treaties signed with the U.S. government more than a century ago. These hunters adhere to their tribal government’s hunting seasons and regulations, and aren’t licensed through the state. The five tribes are the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Yakama Nation, and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Reports of hunters killing elk instead of bison also surfaced last year, when fewer bison migrated out of the park. Then, too, people pointed the finger at the Nez Perce Tribe.

The hunting of elk near Gardiner has been a touchy subject in recent years. Elk that live there move between Yellowstone and Montana. A count of elk there in the mid-1990s found 19,000. Now, there are about 5,300, and hunting opportunities are more limited than they once were for hunters licensed through the state.

Andrea Jones, a spokeswoman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that while the state agency works with tribal officials on a number of law enforcement issues — trespassing, driving off the road — they can’t tell tribal hunters not to hunt elk.

“The state of Montana has no authority over the rights of tribal governments to take wildlife negotiated under treaties with the U.S. government,” Jones said.

She said the real issue, though, isn’t whether they have the right to hunt.

“This is about how a sovereign nation is exercising those rights,” she said.

She said some hunters have been cited for trespassing and driving off the road. But the agency also has ethical concerns unenforceable by law, like how wounded animals are treated, wasted game meat left in the field and relations between hunters and landowners.

State and tribal officials have a conference call each week about hunting in the area, and Jones said the state has raised their concerns to the tribal governments.

“We’ve expressed our concern about that,” she said. “There has not been much change occurring.”

Some have also criticized the way hunters have been killing bison. Bison hunting happens on small pieces of land near the park border, and some have complained of multiple hunters shooting at once and then leaving behind gut piles. Recently, the advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign posted photos online showing a group of teenagers stabbing a wounded bison as it writhed on the ground.

Montana activists ramp up campaign against culling Yellowstone bison

https://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/montana-activists-ramp-up-campaign-against-culling-yellowstone-bison/

Wildlife advocates are ramping up their campaign against the annual culling of bison that roam onto state lands in Montana each winter from Yellowstone National Park, erecting dramatic billboards showing buffalo bleeding in the snow.

The billboards are the latest effort in an ongoing campaign by opponents of a years-long practice aimed at reducing the number of Yellowstone’s bison to protect against disease transmission and lessen the damage to land in and around the park, which spans parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. This year, wildlife managers aim to reduce the herd by up to 1,300 animals, the largest amount in nearly a decade.

“We’re fine with bison being hunted,” Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Montana-based conservation group behind the billboard campaign, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “But this is mass slaughter.”

His group is urging the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, to stop bison destined for slaughter from being trucked through the state.

The outsized road signs, painted by a Montana artist and bison activist, depict fallen bison with blood drenching snow and the words, in capital letters, “Stop the Yellowstone massacre!” Two billboards went up this week and two more are slated to go up later this month.

Wildlife advocates have also held rallies and a candlelight vigil against the severe cull.

The bison targeted for hunting and slaughter are among those that migrate into Montana each winter from Yellowstone. This year, the herd, the last remaining wild purebred bison in the United States, has swelled to 5,500, much higher than the target of 3,000 sought by wildlife managers.

When the herd gets too big, wildlife managers say, it can damage land through over-grazing. And Montana ranchers fear bison will transmit to cows a disease that causes them to miscarry.

In December, federal, state and tribal agencies responsible for managing the herd said they would cull between 900 and 1,300 bison, one of the largest amounts in the history of the park.

Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the push to cull the herd is linked to the impacts on the landscape by too many animals.

“There needs to be management protocols in place to make sure bison aren’t over-utilizing and destroying the range,” Bodner said.

Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel described bison management as “a difficult and challenging issue.” She added: “The state recognizes culling efforts are not everyone’s preferred approach.”

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Matthew Lewis)

Wildlife Photography©Jim Robertson

‘Stop the Yellowstone Massacre’: Group puts up billboards urging end to bison slaughter

The billboard is one of two that the Alliance for the Wild Rockies bought, the other being in Helena. Steve Kelly, a board member for Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the artist who painted the picture, said they hope people will see the signs and pressure Montana Gov. Steve Bullock into blocking the annual shipping of Yellowstone bison to slaughter for the year.

“It’s a horrendous thing,” Kelly said. “He’s the one who has the power to stop it.”

The signs went up this week, arriving after hundreds of bison have already been sent to slaughterhouses and while another few hundred wait their turn. Alliance for the Wild Rockies is one of several environmental groups that oppose shipping bison to slaughter, a practice government officials consider necessary to meet population reduction goals each year.

“The National Park Service needs to address bison overpopulation in Yellowstone National Park,” said Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel in an emailed statement.

The culling of Yellowstone’s bison herd happens because of a 17-year-old management plan rooted in fears of the disease brucellosis. Brucellosis can cause animals to abort their calves, and the livestock industry worries that if bison are allowed to roam farther outside of the park that the disease might be spread to cattle herds, though no case of bison transmitting the disease to cattle has been documented in the wild.

Reducing the population is one way they try to curtail the risk of brucellosis transmission. The management plan calls for a population of about 3,000 bison in Yellowstone. About 5,500 bison live there now, and officials want to kill about 1,300 from the herd through public hunting and ship to slaughter this year.

State wildlife officials believe hunters from five tribal nations and those licensed through the state have taken roughly 400 so far. The most recent update from Yellowstone National Park said that 179 bison had been sent to slaughter.

There is precedent for a governor blocking the shipment of bison to slaughter. In 2011, then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer issued an executive order blocking the shipment of any bison to slaughterhouses in Montana, a move that prevented the slaughter of roughly 500 bison.

Using the same powers, Bullock delayed shipments to slaughter earlier this year over a group of 40 bison originally meant for establishing a quarantine program at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

A quarantine program would take in bison from Yellowstone and keep them in isolation until they can be certified brucellosis free — a certification that would allow the animals to be taken elsewhere. Yellowstone National Park proposed setting up the quarantine operation at Fort Peck in 2016, a political stalemate over transporting bison through Montana stalled those plans. The park had decided to send those 40 bison to slaughter.

Bullock’s action resulted in a deal to send some of those bison to U.S. Department of Agriculture corrals near Corwin Springs and for the governor to lift the shipping ban.

Abel said in her statement that the state “recognizes culling efforts are not everyone’s preferred approach, and will continue to work directly with the U.S. Department of Interior and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to look at future quarantine as an alternative to slaughter.”

Kelly said they want the governor to either revive the previous ban on shipments or write a new executive order. He said there is probably enough support for the action — aside from the state’s powerful agriculture lobby.

“Certainly there’s enough support,” Kelly said. “He’s just favoring the livestock lobby.”

Yellowstone bison death tally likely more than 570

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.

According to the report, another 321 bison were in the park’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility as of last Friday. Those are likely to be sent to slaughter. The park will also continue capturing more bison as they migrate out in search of forage. The park report said 472 bison were seen between the North Entrance Station and the trap last Monday.

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.

Yellowstone park looks at large bison cull to trim herds

Associated Press 22 hrs ago

Yellowstone National Park biologists say more than 900 wild bison would need to be killed or removed this winter to begin reducing the size of herds that spill into neighboring Montana.

The park has an estimated 5,500 bison, the highest number since at least 2000.

Park officials will meet Thursday with state, tribal and U.S. Agriculture Department representatives to discuss options for managing the animals.

More:

 http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/yellowstone-park-looks-at-large-bison-cull-to-trim-herds/article_a88991a3-5376-5960-825e-6156a24e1960.html
 Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

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.