Montana rejects new Yellowstone bison management plan

Photo credit: Dreamstime

A new bison draft management plan released by Yellowstone National Park has Montana officials seeing red. Last week, Gov. Greg Gianforte along with the Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) sent a 17-page letter to park officials that “slammed all three management alternatives” that allow for a population over 3,000 animals, saying that would lead to increased “disease transmission and have negative ecological impacts,” according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

These factors were not addressed in the draft plan. 

The new draft plan removes slaughter as a means to manage the population. Instead, the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the updated bison management plan outlines the following three alternatives:

  1. Continue existing management to maintain a population range between 3,500 to 6,000 bison;

  2. Manage for a population between 3,500 to 6,000 bison through reducing shipments to slaughter and increasing use of the bison transfer program to tribes; and 

  3. Cease shipments to slaughter and rely on natural selection, hunting, and the transfer program for a population of 3,500 to 7,000 or more.

Last winter, over 1,500 bison were culled from the park through tribal hunting, slaughter and a transfer program for disease-free animals to tribes. Prior to that, the population loomed around 6,000 – far above the proposed objective of 3,000 and even farther from the 1,000-animal objective Montana officials say is enough “to preserve genetic diversity of the herds,” according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Montana has rejected all three alternatives proposed in the draft EIS because they allow for far more than the population target of 3,000 – a number agreed upon in the 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan.

“The success of any proposed alternative hinges on Montana’s cooperation. As such, YNP should be concerned given that Montana has repeatedly flagged concerns and issues associated with each alternative,” said the state’s letter to the park.

The letter focuses on the way changes in bison management would impact the level of brucellosis.

“The alternatives fail to consider how an increased bison population would impact elk populations, movement and range,” the state said. “It added that NPS also ignored potential impacts of the transfer of brucellosis from bison to elk.”

The draft plan also came under fire by the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA).

“Alternatives should include management tools like population control, spring hazing, vaccination, culling, tribal hunting, and shipment of excess animals to processing facilities,” said Raylee Honeycutt, MSGA executive vice president. “While alternatives include some components, it is imperative to have all management tools be available to manage the herd depending on time of year, location, and environmental scenarios.”

Yellowstone is expected to analyze and consider comments collected during the public feedback period and draft a final EIS, which will be released in 2024.


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