Montana’s bison debacle continuesThe convoluted mess that passes for bison management in Montana and adjoining Yellowstone National Park has been an embarrassment for as long as I’ve lived in this state, which is 26 years.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
The convoluted mess that passes for bison management in Montana and adjoining Yellowstone National Park has been an embarrassment for as long as I’ve lived in this state, which is 26 years.
Back in the late ‘80s the State of Montana had to do something about bison overpopulation within the Park, when bison began spilling out onto lands in Montana. Many park bison carry brucellosis, a disease that causes cattle to abort their calves, and Montana ranchers went apoplectic at the thought of losing their “brucellosis-free” status with the federal government. (They later did indeed lose this status for a short time.)
The National Park Service (NPS), with its usual phobia regarding hunting, would not allow any hunting within the Park. So outside the Park, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks conducted closely supervised “hunts” where game wardens accompanied hunters. It became a media debacle, with animal rights activists trying to disrupt hunts, and creating an “Occupy Wall Street” scene in southwestern Montana.
The State of Montana and the Park Service tried other approaches: game wardens shot bison outside the park and the state donated the meat to Indian tribes. That seemed to placate the most vociferous critics, but the problem never really went away.
While NPS with assistance from the Montana Dept. of Livestock, rounded up hundreds of bison every year and shipped them to slaughter each year, FWP offered a limited hunt outside the park that did little to contain bison numbers. (Some 3,700 bison currently live within the Park.) Hazing operations done by helicopter, snowmobile and horseback by Livestock did nothing but move bison back into the park. As soon as the Livestock personnel left the area, the bison wandered back onto lands outside the Park.
Amid this tumultuous mess, FWP established a quarantine program in the upper Yellowstone Valley south of Gardiner, but when it came time to move bison to state-owned, private and federal lands, the agency found out that not many wanted the bison! Park County and several landowners have filed suit against moving the bison. The Montana Stockgrowers loudly opposed moving any bison into Montana.
Media mogul Ted Turner agreed to hold 143 bison on his Flying “D” ranch near Bozeman, which further enraged some members of the public.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer-(D) got into the act. After federal officials at the National Bison Range at Moise, Mont., rebuffed his attempt to move more bison to that location, he banned the federal government from moving the bison anywhere in the U.S. A couple weeks later, in December 2011, Schweitzer reversed himself and said he would allow quarantined bison to be moved to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian Reservations in northeastern and northcentral Montana. The move is expected to take place this summer.
Proposals to move bison to public lands in Montana — state or federal — have met a firestorm of resistance from neighboring landowners.
Schweitzer still would like limited hunting to be allowed within Yellowstone National Park to keep bison numbers in check. Such a hunt could be limited to a buffer zone within several miles of the park’s boundary during a few months, the Governor has told the media.
“The park has been unrealistic in how they deal with the issue,” Schweitzer told the Associated Press. “We’re not proposing that hunters be able to shoot bison by Old Faithful while tourists are watching.”
Meanwhile, a 30-member citizen group commissioned to advise government agencies on long-term policies concerning bison recommends expanding areas outside the Park where bison will be tolerated. Federal and state officials will meet later this month to discuss the committee’s recommendations.
But don’t expect anything to come of it. I expect this bison fiasco will continue long into the future.