For the next three months state and federal agencies will take public ideas on how best to manage bison that leave Yellowstone National Park, the first step in replacing the Interagency Bison Management Plan adopted in 2000.
Bison management in the park long has been a thorny and controversial issue. Some of the iconic animals carry brucellosis, a disease (which they contracted long ago from cattle) that can cause domestic livestock to abort their fetuses. As such, the livestock industry in Montana largely opposes Yellowstone bison leaving the park and heading into lower wintering grounds and calving grounds in Montana. Some of those bison are hunted, others are trucked off to slaughterhouses.
With the effort on to craft a better plan, everything likely will be on the table, including the park's work to maintain its bison population at a specific number.
A year ago Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash told the Traveler that, "Of the many subjects that we might look at as we would develop a new EIS, we would look at population abundance, demographics of the animals, what habitat is out there and might be available, tolerance for people and bison and landscapes. All of those are areas that we might explore as we move into this process. The concept is to look at what we've learned and new information, and determine if we should craft something to replace the existing IMBP."
In response to the start of the scoping period that will be used to identify topics that possibly should be examined in an EIS, the National Parks Conservation Association along with other regional and national organizations sent a letter to Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk outlining important areas of consideration for the development of the new plan.
'It's been 15 years since the current plan guiding Yellowstone bison management was finalized and much has changed since that time. The National Parks Conservation Association is hopeful that the new Bison Conservation plan will create a stronger, better legacy for Yellowstone Bison ' icons of our National Park System ' that will benefit the animals and all stakeholders," said Bart Melton, NPCA's Northern Rockies regional director, said in a prepared statement.
'This winter, the outdated plan currently guiding bison management led agencies to attempt to kill roughly 600 Yellowstone bison when they left the park through the 'ship to slaughter' process. It's time to study new opportunities available for bison when they migrate into Montana."
Caroline Byrd, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said the effort to craft a new management plan "offers the opportunity to improve, update and shift the management of Yellowstone bison and reduce the annual cycle of controversy and conflict that has characterized the public debate regarding bison management for too long."
"The new bison plan should be rooted in science, reflect the changes that have occurred in the past decade, incorporate our knowledge and experience managing bison, and chart a new course for bison conservation and management that is good for bison, good for Yellowstone National Park, good for the State of Montana, and good for all of the stakeholders involved," she said in a letter to Gov. Bullock and Superintendent Wenk.