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A young bison near West Yellowstone, Montana. Photo by David Nolt.

Fish, Wildlife & Parks Offers Scoping Period on Bison Hunt

In an effort to flush out “any other broad issues” related to the experimental bison hunt in Montana, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) is offering a public scoping period on the hunt before a draft revised Environmental Assessment (EA) is released some time in April. The two-week scoping period ends on March 7, 2008.

The already complicated issue of bison hunting is set to become even more so as Idaho’s Nez Perce seek a larger harvest of bison under treaty rights allowing the Nez Perce to hunt in “open and unclaimed land” around Yellowstone National Park. The Nez Perce claim they are able to harvest 70 to 110 bison, but MFWP contends they are limited to 41.

The Nez Perce assertion comes as the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and the Yellowstone National Park Service continue to capture and slaughter bison to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis from bison to cattle, though there is no evidence of this ever occurring. The agencies have captured 661 bison so far this winter. The DOL contends the loss of Montana’s brucellosis-free status would cause significant economic harm to ranchers, who would then have to test cattle before sending them out of state to slaughter.

Bison status is a peculiar one in Montana; though wild bison are listed as a MFWP species of concern, they are also treated as a diseased species in need of management. Melissa Frost, MFWP Information and Education Program Manager, says bison are “probably the most complex species in terms of wildlife management” in the state.

The 2003 legislation establishing a bison hunt gives the MFWP – “after consultation with the Department of Livestock” – management authority over the hunt. However, all bison management outside of the hunt is administered by the five signatory agencies under the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). The Park Service is the lead agency for bison management within the park, and the DOL takes the lead outside the park.

The IBMP calls for bison to be limited to a population of between 2,500 and 3,500. A goal of the IBMP is also to “preserve a viable, wild population of Yellowstone bison,” but critics contend the IBMP compromises the genetic diversity and health of Yellowstone’s herds by allowing the hazing of bison within and around the borders of the park and by sending hundreds of genetically pure Yellowstone bison to slaughter.

Elk also carry brucellosis, but are treated as free-roaming wildlife outside the park and are managed by the MFWP. Critics say the double-standard means elk should either be managed like bison or the IBMP should be adapted to shift the emphasis to protecting individual cattle operations in order to allow bison to roam freely in and out of the park.

A public comment period will follow the release of the draft EA in April 2008. To see the original 2004 bison hunt EA, click here. To comment on the bison hunt, click here.

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  1. Why is it so hard for people to see, That everyone out here unconnected to IBMP partners, is being screwed? The Cattle Rancher is made to believe that Bison are the enemy. The Department of Livestock’s job is to make sure that happens. The Park Service’s job is to make the ‘Public’ think there are too many Bison, so the Park Rangers Job is to make sure that happens. Fish and Game is supposed to pretend they are in charge of Wild life, and the Forest Service is here to make that happen.

    BUT the only thing that IS happening, is an awful lot of MONEY is being flushed down the toilet!!!! Instead of seeing an:

    ASS(et) we are getting a LIE(ability)

  2. One clarification: MFWP is working directly with the Nez Perce on their bison harvests. The revised EA will address the broader issues of all hunter harvest and whether or not a change should be made to harvest numbers (increase or decrease).

    Thanks for reading.
    -David Nolt

  3. Am I getting this right then?
    In other words, FW&P Is trying to sell the eggs, BEFORE they get the chickens. Don’t they realize you need a coop for the chickens in order to get enough eggs to sell? And that the EGGS always taste better when the chickens got to run around the yard.

    I do enjoy your articles!!!

  4. The Nez Perce Tribe has committed to end its hunt this Sunday and work out its differences with FWP.

  5. The current bison “plan” eradicates only bison not brucellosis. Elk and other “exposed” wildlife including grizzly and black bears use a much broader landscape in southwest Montana. Please encourage the FWP to consider allowing bison access to all the conflict-free habitat that exists, much of it public land, to the winter ranges in southwest Montana framed by the Dome Mountian, Gallatin and Wall Creek Wildlife Management Areas. Then we can have a hunt we can all be proud of.

  6. Just a question, How do lynx and Bison conflict for range? Last I knew Lynx were carnivores, and Bison were herbivores.
    I’m NOT trying to be a jerk, I’m just wondering how Bison and Lynx sharing ranges could be bad?

  7. Ann, there seems to be a conveyor belt of boutique species. The extent of the land grab for lynx will generate sizeable attention and reaction. The negatives will slop over on buffs. People mad at the lynx situation will take out their anger on all other ‘land for animal’ grabs.

  8. Craig;
    Thanks! :o)
    In other words more proof of irrational thinking on the Part of the human species. Vindictiveness, vs. level-headedness (if that’s even a word) Sad, isn’t it?

  9. The bison hunt was originally offered by the FWP as a tool of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. They reasoned that by allowing hunters to engage in the taking of bison, hunters would form a natural allegiance in the recover of wild bison in Montana. Hunting is a very important management tool. However, the scenario that the FWP, some sportsmen groups, and others hope for has not happened. Hunters are being used by the DOL to do their dirty work: slaughter the bison at the border. Under the North American Model, the establishment of sustainable population is a must before hunting is considered. There is no sustainable population of wild bison within the borders of Montana. Bison are not tolerated. Yet hunters, as a group, are selfishly shooting bison, while they turn their backs to conservation: establishing viable wild bison herds in Montana. They are taking and not giving back. The North American Model does not anticipate this. So now, we have a hunt that fails to meet the test of the Model, but also is not Fair Chase.

    Where the North American Model has been very successful in other instances, it has not worked for the bison. As stated in the public notice of the EA, “The intent of the law authorizing the current bison hunt was to allow hunters to harvest wild bison under fair chase conditions without endangering the bison population…” After three years the hunt may be considered a success to some but on a whole is has failed to live up to the principles of the Model. By failing to enlist hunters in the struggles to provide for viable bison population on identified suitable public lands within Montana, hunter are proving unworthy of a hunt. When we speak about hunting bison in Montana what is really being said is the complete slaughter of all bison within Montana. How is that “fair chase” and not “endangering the bison population” of Montana? The original “intent” has not been met. As the FWP continue down this road of slaughter, they are betraying another principle of wildlife conservation: The Public Trust. In the case of the bison, the FWP is failing as Trustees of our wildlife.

    It is good the FWP has opened the original EA up for public comment. The harvest numbers do need more flexibility. The FWP should suspend the bison hunt immediately. They should stop and they should stop hunters from being stooges for the DOL. They should start standing up for bison and its public habitat in Montana, establishing viable year round herds first. Kill the hunt until it can be conducted with respect for Montana’s bison. Reduce the number of tags to zero for all parties involved including the North American tribes. Until, if ever, we as hunters get it right for the bison first there should be no diluting of the North American Model. Hunters do not need to stoop to level of the DOL, we are better than that and the bison deserve better.

  10. Timothy,
    BRAVA for your comments! They would do well in the public forum such as a letter to the editor and/or guest opinion piece. I encourage you to do so.
    I know Glenn/GWA has been working very hard to get hunters more involved and this really helps. Thanks for writing so succinctly.

  11. Many hunters stoodalongside environmentalists in protesting this hunt last year. They understand that ranchers have pressured the game departments to have this hunt although bison are a fragment of their former numbers.Rancher politics screwing Mother Earth again.Nothing new.

  12. First I’d say Three Cheers for Timothy, great coments, straight to the point.
    My other coment is that it could in the long run be good for Montana as a whole if we did loose our brucellosis free rating.
    I know a lot of people will swallow their tongues over this but it could result in more Montana beef being processed in Montana.Keep our food local and where we can have a say in what we are being fed.