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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Prehistoric bison slaughter site uncovered in MT

Source: The Buffalo Post

Crews working to build a new dormitory for a boarding school on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana have unearthed a prehistoric bison slaughter site.

An excavation team from the Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office works on unearthing a bison processing site at the foot of a buffalo jump on the Blackfeet Boarding School campus in August. / (Photo by Rion Sanders, Great Falls Tribune)

An excavation team from the Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office works on unearthing a bison processing site at the foot of a buffalo jump on the Blackfeet Boarding School campus in August. / (Photo by Rion Sanders, Great Falls Tribune)
The discovery prompted the tribal government there to issue a resolution ordering the BIA to stop construction.

David Murray, of the Great Falls Tribune, has the full story:

      Blackfeet tribal officials allege the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to conduct a proper environmental assessment of the site before initiating the project or to consult with the tribe regarding their plans to build a new dormitory at the Cut Bank Boarding School. If true, the BIA would be in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The construction project sits immediately adjacent to a well-known prehistoric bison jump that was extensively excavated in the 1950s

“It’s kind of a big thing because the BIA never really consulted at all with us,” said Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. “There’s been a stop order placed on all work and for people not to enter the site. They’ve halted everything down there and the Tribal Historic Preservation Office has secured the site because people were trying to steal some of the artifacts.”

Hundreds of pounds of bison bones have been discovered at the site.

      One Blackfeet archaeologist called the Boarding School site a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery.

Sharp said construction work at the site has been halted for a minimum of two weeks while tribal officials attempt to sort out how to proceed. The tribal council is hoping Department of Interior officials from Washington, D.C., will travel to the Blackfeet Reservation to view the excavation and consult with tribal officials.