CHICO HOT SPRINGS, Mont. — Bison managers here Nov. 28 agreed to try to cull between 600 and 900 Yellowstone bison through hunting and capture-for-slaughter operations this winter.
Yellowstone National Park biologist PJ White said the range would keep the park’s population of roughly 4,500 bison near its long-term average over the past several years.
None of the other agencies involved in the Interagency Bison Management Plan vocally opposed the park’s recommendation. But some tribal officials raised concerns about last year, when the same range was agreed to and later exceeded.
During the winter of 2017 and 2018, managers and hunters removed more than 1,100 bison, resulting in a slight decrease in the population. Of those, nearly 800 were trapped. Some were set aside for a brucellosis quarantine program and the others were shipped to slaughter.
Bison are removed from the population each year as part of a multi-agency agreement that limits where bison are allowed in Montana and calls for population control in the name of preventing the transmission of brucellosis to cattle. The disease can cause animals to abort and was once a major human health concern.
The removal takes place during the winter each year, when heavy snows force the bison to migrate north from the interior of Yellowstone. Hunters from six tribal nations and some licensed through the state of Montana take aim at them when they cross the park’s western and northern borders. Park officials capture some in a set of corrals near Gardiner.
How many bison end up dead depends heavily on the weather. In some years, few bison venture out. In others, they come out in great number.
Tribal officials worry that extensive use of the slaughter program limits the number of animals available to their hunters. But park officials say trapping bison is key to meeting reduction goals because hunter success is uncertain.
White said the park expects to trap between 400 and 600 bison this winter. However, details on how the park and tribes would coordinate the use of the trap with tribal hunts are still being negotiated.