HomeOutdoorsNewsYellowstone National Park Officials Still Haven’t Set Target for Annual Bison Cull

Yellowstone National Park Officials Still Haven’t Set Target for Annual Bison Cull

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images)

A full day of discussions led to no progress between state federal and tribal authorities who manage Yellowstone National Park‘s wide range of bison.

The groups couldn’t jointly agree to a target number of bison to cull from the overall population this winter. However, they instead agreed that they’d negotiate further at a later date.

“I don’t know what to say, except that we’re not going to set a population (target) this year,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. This Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting occurred on Nov. 30 in West Yellowstone.

While the groups did not reach a decision, they did agree on one thing. They’ll work to maximize bison hunting and trapping opportunities at the border of the park based on a few conditions.

Mike Honeycutt of the Montana Department of Livestock rejected the idea of managing for an increasing bison population. On the other hand, Quincy Ellenwood, who represents the Nez Perce Tribe, rejected the idea of managing for a stable to decreasing bison population.

In the end, the partners did not reach a compromise. That means that no target ranges were established for the winter operations plan.

Yellowstone National Park’s bison aren’t tolerated beyond some zones in the state of Montana. That’s because of the threat the disease brucellosis, which bison can carry, puts on the state’s livestock industry. Because the animals reproduce quickly, a portion of the population is culled annually to keep steady numbers in the park.

Yellowstone National Park Officials Estimate the Park Currently Houses 6,000 Bison

There are approximately 6,000 bison in Yellowstone National Park, according to the latest counts. The National Park Service believes Yellowstone’s landscape can house about 10,000 of the animals, said Chris Geremia, who serves as the park’s lead bison biologist.

The counts this year marks the highest numbers in park history. Staff now work to understand what this could mean for the landscape, Geremia said. Based on the winter weather this year, he said he believes there will be a strong migration.

Under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, the state of Montana, the National Park Service, seven Tribal Nations and other partners agree to cull some bison from the Yellowstone population each fall. The plan was first instituted in 2000.

Their mission is to to conserve the world’s last free-roaming bison herd while also preventing the transmission of brucellosis to cattle.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease stemming from contact with birth tissues and fluids of infected animals. A large number of Yellowstone bison have been exposed to it. Cattle that contract the disease can miscarry or produce weak offspring.

Montana’s “Class Free Status” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be in jeopardy if brucellosis is transmitted outside a specific area. Losing this designation would be detrimental to the state’s livestock industry.

Moreover, there has never been a documented case of brucellosis being transmitted from bison to cattle in the wild. This is mainly because of staunch efforts to separate the species at the border of the park. However, elk have spread the disease to livestock outside of Yellowstone over two dozen times.