Concerned that there are too many bison in Yellowstone National Park, the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners have signed off on a proposal that calls for upwards of 900 of the iconic animals to be culled, either through a public hunt outside the park or through a trapping program to provide bison to Native American tribes.
Bison are a migratory species and they move across a vast landscape. In winter, some bison migrate out of Yellowstone to lower elevations outside the park in search of food. However, officials in Montana are concerned that bison could transmit brucellosis, a disease that can cause fetuses to be aborted, to livestock. As a result, bison are not allowed to roam unfettered in the state.
The size of the population and the level of tolerance outside the park are two issues often debated by the IBMP partners and their constituents.
“Many people are uncomfortable with the practice of culling bison, including the National Park Service,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk in a release. “The park would gladly reduce the frequency and magnitude of these operations if migrating bison had access to more habitat outside the park or there was a way to transfer live bison elsewhere.”
Currently, it is against state and federal laws to move any wild bison exposed to brucellosis anywhere except to approved meat-processing or research facilities. The park is currently studying the feasibility of developing quarantine facilities for bison that would allow animals that repeatedly test negative for brucellosis to be sent alive to other public, private, or tribal lands for conservation, hunting, or food production.
Capture operations this winter will occur at the Stephens Creek facility near the park’s north entrance. This facility is operated on behalf of all IBMP partners to meet population reduction objectives. For safety reasons, the facility is closed to the public year-round. Under this year’s IBMP operations plan, capture will begin no earlier than February 15, and will cease no later than March 31.
In 1995, Montana sued the National Park Service because bison were migrating out of the park onto state lands. A court-mediated settlement was reached in 2000 creating the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Today, the park and seven other partners implement this plan, which was approved by the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and the Montana governor.
The park and the state of Montana are working together to update the current bison management plan. While the existing plan has been effective at preventing brucellosis transmission and maintaining a viable population, the park believes a new plan is needed. There is new data about general biology and disease prevalence, and public opinion is shifting toward more tolerance for bison in Montana. You can find more information about this planning process at the NPS PEPC website.
The cooperating agencies operating under the IBMP are the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Montana Department of Livestock, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Nez Perce Tribe.