Yellowstone National Park Calls for More Bison in New Plan

Yellowstone National Park Calls for More Bison in New Plan

The essential element for wild bison restoration is to address brucellosis. This plan – to have more bison and then kill more bison –  tinkers around the edges without fundamentally addressing the problem.

 

NOTE: this article was originally published to JHNewsandGuide.com on June 12, 2024. It was written by By Amanda Eggert – Montana Free Press Via WyoFile.com

 

Yellowstone National Park is proposing a major shift in its strategy for managing bison, one that could mean larger herds, expanded hunting opportunities beyond park borders, and more bison transfers to tribal governments.

 

The park prepared its new bison management plan in response to research regarding brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause cattle to abort their young. That research has concluded that brucellosis transmission to livestock — a concern that has underpinned the park’s bison management approach for more than two decades — is more likely attributable to elk than bison.

The park, along with other federal, state and tribal agencies, has historically limited bison expansion outside park boundaries. For years, the animals have been subject to a capture-and-quarantine strategy, hazed back inside the park, shipped to slaughterhouses or shot by hunters, mostly tribal members.

Groups such as the Montana Stockgrowers Association have long pushed to limit the presence of bison outside the park, arguing that risks associated with brucellosis transmission, fence damage and forage loss should preclude the park and other decision-makers from taking a more hands-off approach to bison management.

The park’s new plan, technically an environmental impact statement, preserves its ability to “take more aggressive management actions” in coordination with other federal, state and tribal partners working under the existing Interagency Bison Management Plan if the risk of bison mingling with livestock increases. The plan allows for some hazing and “ship-to-slaughter” operations as needed — bison management techniques that have drawn intense criticism from wildlife advocates.

The park’s plan will manage the herd for 3,500 to 6,000 animals, a modest expansion from the status quo alternative based on the 24-year-old existing plan. The park said the new plan will “facilitate bison recovery; improve hunting opportunities outside the park; enhance local, regional and tribal economies; and enrich the experiences of tribal members, residents and visitors.” A third alternative the park analyzed but didn’t select would take a more laissez-faire approach to bison management, treating them more like elk and allowing natural selection and bison dispersal to play a larger role in herd distribution and size.

Michelle Uberuaga, senior Yellowstone program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association, described the proposed plan as an “important next step” that is science-based and will allow bison to thrive in Yellowstone.

“We applaud the park’s commitment to expanding tribal cultural herds and will continue to work to ensure bison are managed in the same manner as other wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — including ending the annual ‘ship-to-slaughter’ program,” she said.

The plan’s release comes after years of tension between the federal government and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration over bison management. The U.S. Interior Department in March 2023 pledged to invest $25 million in bison restoration efforts, citing their ecological, historical and tribal importance. In 2022, Gianforte joined the Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen in opposing an effort to expand bison grazing on Bureau of Land Management-administered land in north-central Montana, and the prior year the state agreed not to explore bison introduction on state-managed land for at least a decade as part of a lawsuit settlement.

A spokesperson for Gianforte criticized the EIS, calling it “yet another insult to the state of Montana.”

The park administration is expected to formally adopt the new plan by issuing a record of decision at the conclusion of a 30-day waiting period.

— This story was originally published by Montana Free Press at montanafreepress.org.

 

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Comments
  • I never understood why a place like that or any of those in the conservation business manages for a desired number of animals to have on the landscape without ever mentioning “habitat” and how many animals the habitat is capable of supporting.

    • Hello Ruben,

      Yes you are right more animals are needed but they must be moving around.

      The big bison problem is brucellosis. Managers think it’s ‘unnatural’ to treat bison like cattle. Same for elk. So the animals are a health threat the minute they leave the park. Plus when weakened they are susceptible to other diseases.

      All area cattle should be vaccinated for brucellosis and so should bison. Then there would be less fear of bison spreading disease.

      There are so many issues blocking your common sense but this would be a great first step.

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