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After more than 20 years, Yellowstone National Park seeks new bison management plan

Posted at 1:29 PM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 15:54:01-05

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - During a public webinar Wednesday night, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly called on everyone from environmental groups to state officials to work together to come up with a new bison management plan.

Sholly said Yellowstone and the land around it is a lot different now than when the current bison plans were developed in 2000. He pointed out that there are fewer ranches located near the borders of the park, and added: “We’ve learned a lot over the last twenty years, we got a lot more science done. We studied brucellosis more.”

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Because of the brucellosis fear, the bison herd has been kept between 3,500 and 5,000 animals through hunting, shipping bison to Native American tribes but mostly by sending the animals to slaughter.

Brucellosis is a disease that can cause cattle to abort fetuses. Fear that bison might spread it to cattle has guided bison management for 22 years. Now, biologists say that fear may be misplaced.

“The original plan in 2000 assumed that bison would be the primary risk of transmitting brucellosis to cattle. Since then, the National Academies have found that certainly elk is a much greater risk,” said park biologist P.J. White.

Because of the brucellosis fear, the bison herd has been kept between 3,500 and 5,000 animals through hunting and shipping bison to Native American tribes, but mostly by sending the animals to slaughter.

Sholly said he is not happy with that solution.

“Under any alternative, we’d like to get away from as much shipment to slaughter as possible,” he said.

He also said that a range of alternatives includes having bison move into more parts of the park and onto so-called “tolerance zones” on National Forest land outside the park. He said by doing that, as many as 10,000 bison could live in or near the park. Their numbers would be controlled by hunting and by sending disease-free animals to tribal nations. That program is currently shipping up to 100 bison a year, but Sholly said that number will soon double.

Sholly also said that he knows people on all sides of bison management feel strongly about the issue. But he called for calm conversation.

“But I do ask that you try to understand as many dynamics as you possibly can, even if you disagree with those,” said Sholly.

A draft plan is due this fall. After that more public comments will be taken, then a final plan is scheduled to be presented in the fall of 2023.

The deadline for public comment is Feb. 28. To make your comment, click here.


28 bison transferred from Yellowstone National Park to Fort Peck Tribes