Native American tribe may seek to hunt bison inside Yellowstone

Laura Zuckerman
Reuters6:10 a.m. CDT, April 3, 2014

A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters / August 15, 2011)
A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters / August 15, 2011)
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – The Nez Perce tribe once hunted bison in what is now Yellowstone National Park, and some tribal leaders want to revive the practice, which ended with Western settlement and the near total extermination of the once-vast U.S. bison herds.

Today, remnants of the bison, or buffalo, herds still roam the grasslands and river valleys of Yellowstone, a huge park that covers parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The park lands, in which hunting is illegal, once made up a key segment of the Idaho tribe’s traditional hunting grounds, and some Nez Perce leaders say they should again be able to hunt buffalo inside the park.

“Before there was a park, there was a tribe,” Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman said. “Some of our members already feel we have the right to hunt in the park, but it hasn’t been exercised because we feel it would be remiss in going forward that way.”

After asserting hunting rights tied to historic treaties in recent years, the Nez Perce and three other tribes already hunt those bison that follow ancient migration routes outside the park and into Montana in search of winter range.

The Nez Perce have not yet formally requested hunting rights inside the park. Such a request would require extensive federal review, major changes to Yellowstone policies, and congressional action to modify a founding law that banned hunting or killing of buffalo and other wildlife there.

The prospect of hunting any of the 4,000 buffalo within Yellowstone boundaries is strongly opposed by animal advocates, who decry an existing culling program that allows hundreds of bison to be hunted and shipped to slaughter annually.

“Yellowstone is against any proposal to hunt in the park,” said David Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, the park’s science and research branch.


Whitman said the tribe would not force the issue by violating any of the park’s regulations but may seek to broach the topic with the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the national park system, or perhaps lobby Congress “to request those changes be made”.

Management of Yellowstone bison has stirred controversy for decades. Killing of animals that wander into Montana in winter in search of food aims to keep in check a herd population whose size is determined by social tolerance rather than the ecosystem’s carrying capacity, Yellowstone officials said.

The culling is also designed to ease the worries of Montana ranchers who fear bison will transmit the cattle disease brucellosis, which can cause animals to miscarry, to cows that graze near the park.

That could put into jeopardy Montana’s brucellosis-free status, which allows ranchers to ship livestock across state lines without testing.

Marty Zaluski, Montana state veterinarian and member of a state, federal and tribal team that manages bison in and around Yellowstone, is a proponent of hunting in the park and told Reuters in February it needed to be “looked at more seriously as a possible solution”.

He said it would bring the herd closer to a population target of 3,000 to 3,500 and lessen the public outcry tied to slaughter of wayward buffalo.

But Yellowstone’s Hallac contends that hunting in the park, which draws 3 million visitors a year because of tourist attractions such as the Old Faithful geyser and the bison, would further complicate matters.

“Even a proposal to hunt in the park causes more problems than the dilemma it intends to solve,” he said. “These are America’s wildlife and a crucial part of our national heritage. To propose to hunt in a place established specifically to prevent animals from being hunted is bizarre.”

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston; and Peter Galloway)

Copyright © 2014, Reuters

17 more bison shipped to slaughter


Billings Gazette Feb 19, 2014  •  By Brett French

BRETT FRENCH/Gazette Staff Bison wander back toward Yellowstone National Park from outside the park’s northern border in the Gardiner Basin recently. The park continues to ship bison to slaughter to reduce the number of animals in the park.
BRETT FRENCH/Gazette Staff
Bison wander back toward Yellowstone National Park from outside the park’s northern border in the Gardiner Basin recently. The park continues to ship bison to slaughter to reduce the number of animals in the park.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes trucked 17 more Yellowstone National Park bison from the park’s Stephens Creek bison capture facility to a slaughter facility in Ronan on Wednesday.

The tribes pay a game warden to ride along with the shipment of animals to shoot them if there is an accident and the bison escape from the trailer, a requirement of the Montana Department of Livestock.

That requirement was unknown to the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, which had agreed to take any bison not wanted by Yellowstone treaty tribes. Initially, the DOL offered to provide one of its employees to ride along at a cost of $350 a trip. When the council balked at the cost, Yellowstone on Wednesday agreed to pay, said Christian Mackay, executive officer for the DOL.

“It’s not an insurmountable problem by any means,” Mackay said. “We have some loads scheduled this week to go out.”

Jim Stone, executive director of the buffalo council, said such “annoying” issues are roadblocks to fulfilling agreements under the Interagency Bison Management Plan and he called into question the DOL’s role in the process.

To date, tribal and state hunters have killed 162 bison, said Tom McDonald of the confederated tribes’ natural resources office. The Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Umatilla tribes are still conducting hunts. Montana-licensed hunters took 29 bison this season.

Last week, the confederated tribes transported another 20 bison from Yellowstone to slaughter and five were transferred to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for research. According to a Park Service spokesman, about 70 to 75 bison are now in the Stephens Creek corral. The bison were not hazed into the facility. Another 50 to 70 bison have moved past the park’s northern boundary in the Gardiner Basin while about 400 have gathered in the park roughly between the towns of Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo.

Yellowstone officials want to remove 300 to 600 bison in consecutive years to reduce the size of the park’s herds to meet the terms of an agreement with the state of Montana. Bison advocacy groups have decried the move, saying a target population of 3,000 to 3,500 bison in the park is not based on the carrying capacity of the range. This summer the park’s bison herd was estimated at 4,600 animals.

Bison advocates would like to see the animals given more room to roam outside Yellowstone and a quarantine process enacted to transfer live animals to existing tribal bison herds. Those efforts have been fought by the livestock industry since many of the bison carry brucellosis, which can cause pregnant cattle to abort.

Defenders of Wildlife said 56,000 people had emailed Gov. Steve Bullock asking him to intervene and halt the slaughter.

McDonald said confederated tribes are taking bison to slaughter for hunters who were unsuccessful in filling their bison hunting tags. The hunters pay for the cost of shipping, slaughtering and butchering of the bison.

“When it’s all said and done, people love bison meat and are willing to pay a premium,” McDonald said. “Ninety-seven percent of the people who return to eating bison find it exceptional.”

He added that the hunts have been “self-esteem builders” for the parties of hunters that travel to Yellowstone’s borders.

“It’s almost a healing kind of thing,” McDonald said.

Yellowstone bison slaughter begins

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — Yellowstone National Park transferred 20 bison to a Montana Indian tribe for slaughter on Wednesday, marking the first such action this winter under a plan to drastically reduce the size of the largest genetically pure bison population in the U.S.

The transfer was first disclosed by the Buffalo Field Campaign, a wildlife advocacy group, and confirmed by park officials.

Five more bison that had been captured were to be turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday for use in an experimental animal contraception program, said park spokesman Al Nash.

Yellowstone administrators plan to slaughter up to 600 bison this winter if harsh weather conditions inside the 2.2-million-acre park spur a large migration of the animals to lower elevations in Montana. It’s part of a multiyear plan to reduce the population from an estimated 4,600 animals to about 3,000, under an agreement between federal and state officials signed in 2000.

Tens of millions of bison once roamed the North American Plains before overhunting drove them to near extinction by the early 1900s. Yellowstone is one of the few places where they survive in the wild.

James Holt, a member of Idaho’s Nez Perce tribe and board member for the Buffalo Field Campaign, said the park’s population target was an arbitrary number that threatens to infringe on treaty hunting rights held by his and other tribes. Members of those tribes travel hundreds of miles every winter for the chance to harvest bison.

Holt said many tribes have a sacred, spiritual connection with the animals because American Indians historically depended on them for food and clothing.

“We’re talking about the last free-roaming herd here,” he said. “It does them a disservice and is a disrespect to them that they are being treated in this manner.”

But Montana’s livestock industry has little tolerance for bison because of concerns over disease and competition with cattle for grass.

Steps taken by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to give bison more room to roam outside the park have yielded mixed results, with ranchers and local officials pushing back.

The last major bison slaughter occurred in the winter of 2008, when 1,600 were killed. Schweitzer later placed a temporary moratorium on the practice that has since expired.

The latest group of bison destined for slaughter was transferred to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.

Nash said hundreds more bison remain clustered near the park’s northern boundary, where the 25 animals were captured Friday after they wandered into a holding facility. That sets the stage for potentially more shipments to slaughter in coming days and weeks if more bison start to move into Montana.

“We’re set up and ready to go should we see bison come down in significant numbers,” Nash said.

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