Yellowstone Bison Will Face Montana Guns This Winter

BILLINGS, Montana, September 9, 2005 (ENS) - For the first time in 15 years, hunters will shoot Yellowstone bison as they exit the park on their seasonal migration into Montana. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission agreed Thursday at a meeting in Billings to establish a 90 day bison hunt this fall and winter that includes a large area of southwestern Montana.

In January, the commission delayed the implementation of a 30 day bison hunt that was set to open near Gardiner on January 15. The bison to be hunted are members of the last wild herd of animals left after the massive slaughters of the 19th century wiped out millions of bison on the Great Plains.

Back in January, commissioners said they wanted to wait until autumn "to ensure fair-chase circumstances, and a longer hunting season with broader hunting opportunities to include more than 28,000 acres near West Yellowstone, in addition to the area near Gardiner." The hunting areas now authorized cover more than 460,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

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A bison is safe in the summertime in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo credit unknown)
The nonprofit buffalo protection organization Buffalo Field Campaign calls this latest incarnation of a buffalo hunt in Montana "nothing more than an affirmation that Montana will not tolerate wild buffalo in the state." The addition of a buffalo hunt will completely eliminate any and all wild buffalo that enter Montana, the group believes.

“Our state is making a grave mistake in proceeding with this hunt,” said Mike Mease, a Montana subsistence hunter who co-founded the Buffalo Field Campaign. “The last so-called hunt proved a disaster for Montana and its hunters. People across the country were outraged when they saw video images of a national icon being gunned down at close range.”

Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers will videotape and photograph the hunt and share images with the media, and through its website. The organizers say they have already scheduled field tours of the hunting grounds with national network news crews.

For the upcoming hunt, the commission approved the sale of 25 either-sex bison licenses for use between November 15 and January 15, 2006; and 25 either-sex licenses for use between January 16, 2006 and February 15, 2006.

In accordance with a new state law, a total of 16 of the licenses will be allotted to Montana’s Indian Tribes. A total of 10 licenses will be awarded to the hunters drawn for last season’s proposed hunt.

The licenses will be valid on private lands with landowner permission, and on those public lands defined as bison areas outside the northern and western boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.

In 2003, the Montana Legislature passed a law giving the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission authority to establish a bison hunt in southwestern Montana. The Comission said Thursday that "the intent of the law is to allow Montana hunters to harvest wild, free-roaming bison under fair chase conditions and to reduce damage to private property by altering bison behavior and distribution."

Officials said the proposed hunt is not expected to regulate bison populations. Population regulation will continue to be addressed through the Interagency Bison Management Plan that allows Montana Department of Livestock and federal agency officials to haze buffalo that leave Yellowstone National Park to drive them back into the park.

Bison are killed if they test positive for brucellosis, an abortive disease of buffalo, cattle, and elk even if they are males and cannot spread the disease.

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The heads of dead Yellowstone bison at a government capture facility. (Photo courtesy Buffalo Field Campaign)
Wild buffalo entering Montana from Yellowstone National Park will remain under the authority of the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL). The DOL's only "concession" to the buffalo is to refrain from hazing, capturing and killing them for the three months that hunters will shoot any buffalo that wanders out of Yellowstone National Park.

If more than 25 buffalo are out of the park in either period or if any buffalo wanders past the allotted area, the DOL may decide to haze or capture the buffalo, leading to a temporary suspension of the hunt.

"Any wild buffalo that enters Montana between November 15 and February 15 will be killed for following their migratory instincts," the Buffalo Field Campaign points out.

As of the summer of 2003, the Yellowstone herd was about 4,000 animals, roughly the same number it was in the early 1990s, compared with the tens of millions of buffalo that once roamed across the United States. State and federal officials say that 4,000 buffalo is too many for the ecological carrying capacity of Yellowstone.

Prospective hunters must apply for licenses, which will be awarded via a special drawing. A bison license will cost $75 for residents and $750 for nonresidents.

Bison hunting regulations and license applications will available at noon Friday on the Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ website at fwp.mt.gov. Applications are due by September 30.

Public bison hunts are established in several western states, including Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. In Montana, the last public bison hunt took place in 1990.

“We will document everything,” Brister said, “to be sure everyone in America sees for themselves what a bison hunt looks like."

"There is neither fairness nor chase involved in killing bison,” he said. “All it requires is walking up to one of the gentle giants, taking aim, and pulling the trigger. It’s about as sporting as shooting a parked truck.”