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State and federal agencies consider bison harvest rules for 2024

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Posted at 3:08 PM, Nov 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-02 17:08:09-04

All seats were filled as the Interagency Bison Management Plan members met at Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley Tuesday morning.

Some controversial proposed changes to the Yellowstone National Park bison management plan are on the agenda. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, the state's Department of Livestock (DOR), and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks sent a 16-page letter to the park opposing all three of the proposed bison plan proposals.

That promises to make the all-day meeting interesting as state officials, the park service, and Indian Tribal representatives try to hash out a plan for managing bison in the future.

In the letter, Gov. Gianforte claimed the park service ignored settled science and legal rulings when it proposed allowing bison herds to grow in size. The proposed growth varies from a modest increase to allowing the herd to more than double the minimum herd size of about 3,000 animals.

Gianforte and the state agencies question the need for a herd of even 3,000 bison and question the ability of the park to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis if the herd grows. The governor also says the state's tolerance for bison may change, suggesting that the state may attempt to roll back previous agreements for herd size.

In the winter of 2022-23, more than 1,500 bison were removed from the park herd after severe winter snows drove the bison from the park in search of winter forage. Hunters killed most of those bison. Hunters included those from the state of Montana and Indian tribal members who were exercising treaty rights to hunt the animals outside the park.

In the spring and summer of 2023, the Park Service expanded its program to capture bison, test the animals to make sure they are disease-free, and ship them to Indian tribes for repopulation efforts elsewhere. Yellowstone officials also made known their desire to greatly reduce or eliminate the killing of bison outside of hunting.