bison in yellowstone winter

Bison group in the road near Frying Pan Spring in Yellowstone National Park in this Feb. 24, 2017, photo.

Yellowstone National Park officials are poised to begin trapping bison as part of its population control work, but so far, the shaggy beasts aren’t moving much.

The park announced Thursday that it is closing the area around the Stephens Creek Capture Facility along the northern park border not far from Gardiner, Mont., in preparation for the bison capture. The area is a traditional migration corridor for bison, elk, deer and pronghorn leaving the park in late winter looking for lower elevation and better feeding grounds.

Tim Reid, bison program manager for the park, said this season’s goal is to reduce the bison population by 600 to 900 animals. Biologists estimate the current population at 4,500 bison. The numbers are reduced through hunting, capturing bison near the boundary and transferring them to Native American tribes for meat distribution and a quarantine program that moves brucellosis-free bison to tribal lands.

Because few bison left the park this winter, hunters harvested only a handful.

“Right now we are well behind whatever the pace was this time last year for capture and hunting,” Reid said. “Last year we had more than 100 animals harvested by this time and we had started capture operations in February last year. It’s all about the weather. It’s what determines if anything happens at all.”

Last year, more than 1,100 were removed from the park’s population, with about 700 of those captured by the park.

Reid said the park will cease capture operations after March to protect bison who are pregnant and ready to calve.

“We typically end our capture operations by late March, so we have about a 2½ week window of opportunity,” he said. “It could be that things conspire that there’s a low off-take of bison this year. We would simply go into next fall with a higher number of bison.”

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