Park plans to cull 600 to 900 bison this winter

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Interagency Bison Management Plan partners agreed Wednesday to cull between 600 and 900 bison from the Yellowstone herd this winter.

PJ White, lead wildlife biologist at Yellowstone, said the cull would likely keep the winter count population stable or decrease it slightly, from roughly 3,800 head at the end of last winter to between 3,400 and 3,750 head at the end of this winter.

To cull the herd, the Park Services relies on tribal and state hunts along the northern and western park boundaries and on trapping and slaughter of bison. Last year, for example, 1,171 bison were culled — 375 harvested by hunters, 694 slaughtered, and 99 quarantined for possible shipment to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck and other tribes.

At the IBMP fall meeting Wednesday night, there was some disagreement between state, federal and tribal representatives about how the trapping of bison should be conducted.

“We’ve never harvested enough bison (by hunting) to meet our removal goals,” said White, who said the park proposed capturing bison throughout the winter and taking steps to make sure they capture enough.

Representatives from tribal nations that have treaty rights to hunt Yellowstone bison expressed concern that extensive trapping and slaughter reduces the number of bison available to their hunters.

“If tribal treaty, tribal harvest is really the priority, then we can address this in one way. If trapping is the priority, then we have to address it in a different way,” said Jeremy Red Star Wolf, Vice Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Marty Zaluski, state veterinarian with the Montana Department of Livestock, said that hunting is preferable to trapping but “hunting was a tool to reduce numbers, not an end in itself.”

A representative for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation disagreed.

“The tribes are not hunting as an instrument of IBMP reduction,” said John Harrison, a staff attorney for the tribes.

It’s a sustenance hunt that they’ve carried out “since time immemorial,” said Harrison.

The park and the tribes will continue to negotiate how to coordinate the hunting and trapping of bison this winter.