Yellowstone bison get more room to roam

New Montana policy could end annual bison slaughter

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Montana will expand year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Wild bison in the Greater Yellowstone area will have more room to roam, as Montana Governor Steve Bullock this week agreed to expand year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park.

Historically, thousands of wild bison have been hazed or slaughtered as they migrated from Yellowstone into Montana in the spring. According to wildlife advocates, the decision represents a significant change in bison management.

“Giving wild bison from Yellowstone year-round habitat in Montana is a welcome holiday offering from Governor Bullock,” said Matt Skoglund, Director of the Northern Rockies Office at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“When you consider this from a science, economics, public opinion, or common sense perspective, it makes sense for Montana to give wild bison from Yellowstone year-round habitat in the state.”

In a statement, Bullock said:

“An adaptive approach to bison management means we look at how we are doing things, assess our effectiveness, and adapt accordingly. This decision is a very modest expansion of the conditions under which bison may remain outside of the Park, in response to changing science and changing circumstances on the ground. While at the same time I am confident our livestock industry is protected. Further, I remain committed to continuing to pressure the Park Service to reduce the bison population in the Park, and keep those numbers to manageable levels.”

Governor Bullock’s decision allows bison around Yellowstone Park to be managed more like wildlife. Bison will be permitted to occupy suitable habitat in Montana outside of the park within manageable confines and subject to seasonal limits on numbers.

Ranchers in the region have long opposed giving bison more territory because they’re concerned about the spread of brucellosis, an introduced disease that can cause infected pregnant animals to miscarry, may spread to domestic livestock from the migrating wild bison.

But the science shows the potential for infection is small and that there are management tools to prevent the spread of the disease. According to wildlife advocates, there has never been a documented transmission from wild bison to livestock.

Future management will focus on resolving actual conflicts on the ground, allowing the state to manage its resources more efficiently, which may save taxpayer dollars. The plan could also increase hunting opportunities for licensed Montana hunters and tribes as the state manages the bison population, Bullock said in his statement.

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