Fish Wildlife and Parks approves new ‘bison management harvests’ outside Yellowstone National Park

Courtesy: Montana FWP

State wildlife officials have set new rules for hunting bison that wander outside of Yellowstone National Park. It’s part of an evolving approach to the controversial topic.

Hunting the bison that leave the Yellowstone Park safe-zone has been drawing controversy for decades. Livestock owners fear the animals will spread brucellosis to their cattle. But wildlife advocates have accused past hunts of being unfair.A hunting plan ended in 1990 had wardens leading hunters to shoot the animals point-blank as they grazed in a field.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has been operating a more ‘fair-chase’ hunt for these bison since 2005. Those hunts have occurred in two hunting districts considered ‘tolerance zones’ for the bison right outside Yellowstone.

Still though, some bison don’t pay much attention to their boundaries and they leave the tolerance zones too. That leads to hazing them back into the park with horses and helicopters or capturing them and putting them in quarantine. That stuff has also been pretty controversial. So Fish Wildlife and Parks commissioners have been working on a new hunt for a while to add to the hazing and they approved it last week.

“And they just decided ‘hey, let’s try this and what it basically did was expand the area where those bison would be allowed,” said FWP Spokesman Ron Aasheim. “When they cross a certain line they would be moved back or hunters would be allowed to take ’em.”

FWP is calling these ‘bison management harvests.’ They’ll be separate from the normal bison hunting season. Aasheim says this won’t be a situation where hunters will be waiting on the line for an animal to cross. It’s gonna be hard.

“People need to understand this isn’t a place where you just drive up and see bison. You have to spend some time. It’s rough country. It’s interesting, challenging country to hunt,” he said.

Fish Wildlife and Parks Commissioners agreed. The Helena Independent Record reports Commissioner Ron Moody took a field trip to the area and has full confidence the harvests would be fair chase.

Former Chairman of the Fort Peck Tribes A.T. Stafne was the only commissioner to vote against the proposal. Some of the quarantined Yellowstone bison are scheduled to be moved to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations later this winter. The harvest proposal includes the possibility of hunting bison that leave the reservations.

FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim says details there are still being worked out and that it’s a different circumstance.

“But this whole bison thing as you know, that’s why we’re talking. Contentious, interesting challenging certainly,” he said.

Aasheim says more information on the harvests will come from the season setting process occurring this summer.

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