MSGA continues to oppose Bison Expansion | concerns left unaddressed
Governor’s bison plan OK’d; will reduce hazing near Yellowstone
Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
WEST YELLOWSTONE — State, federal and tribal agencies agreed on Wednesday to adopt the governor’s plan to allow some bison to stay in Montana year-round, a move officials say will reduce bison hazing done each year near West Yellowstone.
The change will let a certain number of bison stay year-round on Horse Butte near West Yellowstone and north to the Buck Creek drainage, located just south of Big Sky, without being chased back into Yellowstone National Park. The decision also calls for year-round tolerance for male bison north of Gardiner into Yankee Jim Canyon.
At an Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting here, none of the tribal or federal agencies objected to the governor’s December decision, meaning the plan has essentially been approved.
“This a day to be celebrated,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional supervisor Sam Sheppard.
The change comes as an amendment to the 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan, which specifies procedures and population goals for the nearly 5,000 bison that live in the Yellowstone region.
Some tolerance for the animals had already existed outside of the park, but the governor’s decision adds significantly more land to the tolerance zone on the west side, where bison had been hazed back each year.
The decision sets seasonal limits on the number of bison allowed to remain west of the park — 450 from September through February, 600 from March through June, 250 in July and August. When bison numbers exceed that, the state could chase them back across into Yellowstone.
Those figures reflect the number of bison officials expect to see outside of the park in each season. They expect many of the bison that come out in the spring will migrate back into Yellowstone on their own before July, meaning they wouldn’t need to be hazed. Sheppard said the decision “allows bison to do the work for us.”
The decision doesn’t eliminate hazing. Bison still won’t be allowed near the South Fork of the Madison River, so after May 15 they will be chased to either the tolerance zone border or the park border, whichever is closer.
Hazing would still happen on the north side of Yellowstone each year, starting May 1. The decision only allows male bison to roam north to Yankee Jim Canyon year-round, not females.
Female bison raise concerns for livestock producers during the spring calving season because of the disease brucellosis, which can cause cattle to miscarry. The disease is transmitted through afterbirth, and more than half of Yellowstone’s female bison are believed to have been exposed to it. No case of bison transmitting the disease in the wild has been documented.
Still, hazing is one way the IBMP tries to eliminate the risk of disease transmission.
Montana Department of Livestock state veterinarian Marty Zaluski said if there is a mixed group of male and female bison that are in that area, officials won’t attempt to sort the male bison out.
“If there’s a mixed group, then that group will go back,” Zaluski said.
“We’re not in the business of sorting bison,” added Rob Tierney, bison program manager for the Department of Livestock.
Sheppard said that by that time, most bison have usually left the Gardiner Basin for lands inside the park anyway.
Tom MacDonald, fish and wildlife division manager of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said the plan to expand tolerance was a “logical step forward in managing bison.”
Environmental groups and buffalo advocates were pleased with the partner agencies giving the plan a thumbs up Wednesday. During the public comment portion of the meeting, representatives of a few groups thanked the IBMP partner agencies. But it isn’t the end of the fight for them.
“We hope this decision drives further advancements for Yellowstone bison, which unfortunately continue to be shipped to slaughter when they leave the park in search of food in the winter,” Stephanie Adams of the National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement.
On the other side, Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said his group still opposes the governor’s decision. He said they worry that budgets for FWP and the Department of Livestock will be stressed by increasing how much land bison can use since it might require more on-the-ground work. He is also concerned that government officials will ask for even more tolerance in Montana, rather than reducing the number of bison in the region.
“I don’t think our concerns have been addressed,” Bodner said in an interview.
The agencies involved are currently working on a new Interagency Bison Management Plan, and a draft is expected out sometime this year.
Over the next few days, the current plan will be amended to include the governor’s proposals. Each agency involved is expected to formally sign off on the changes later this month, after which the document will be posted online.
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