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Hill writes: "With frigid temperatures and a shrinking food supply, winter can be tough on Yellowstone National Park’s wildlife. And for the area’s 4,900 bison, it’s not just nature’s elements they’re fighting against."

Bison crossing a highway in Yellowstone National Park. (photo: Ed Felker)
Bison crossing a highway in Yellowstone National Park. (photo: Ed Felker)

ALSO SEE: Two Environmental Studies Could Increase Freedom for Yellowstone Bison

A Thousand Bison Sentenced to Die This Winter

By Taylor Hill,

28 December 14


ith frigid temperatures and a shrinking food supply, winter can be tough on Yellowstone National Park’s wildlife. And for the area’s 4,900 bison, it’s not just nature’s elements they’re fighting against.

Upwards of 1,000 buffalo could meet their demise this winter through either hunting or through shipment to slaughterhouses, as park officials look to keep the herds contained and avoid a mass migration of the beasts into Montana.

It’s a balance the Parks Service deals with annually, but this year’s planned culling is one of the largest since the management program was created 14 years ago, up from the 650 killed last winter. According to the National Parks Service website, 300 to 400 bison will be removed by hunting, while 500 to 600 could be shipped to meat processing or research facilities starting in January.

“The plan is to capture and ship at least 50 to 100 bison per week from mid-January through mid-February without regard for age, sex, or disease status,” the Parks Service website states.

But why are mass killings of a Yellowstone’s iconic animal permitted in an area where they are federally protected? The animals are flourishing within the parks’ confines, but when their numbers get too large for an area, they can devastate habitat through overgrazing, and push out other wildlife in the process.

And while hunting within the park is forbidden, the migratory animals often head outside the park confines north into Montana. There, Native American tribal populations have been granted rights to hunt the animals, and public hunters are given a limited number of tags for hunting as well.

That’s created corridors of heavy hunting activity just outside the park’s boundaries, where hunters wait for the chance at bison.

“This has been so tragic, and it’s way more than unsightly gut piles,” said Gardiner, Montana resident Bonnie Lynn to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Lynn said the open Forest Service land near her property becomes a bloody mess every winter, as bison head along Beattie Gulch to lower elevations—easy targets for hunters in waiting. “This year, we anticipate it will be way more than 185 (bison) killed on 5 acres in front of our driveway,” Lynn said. “These animals should have a broader landscape and a safe and ethical hunt. I can understand the Native Americans’ desire to hunt, but this is not respectful of the animal.”

For National Parks Conservation Association program manager Bart Melton, the Park Service’s annual bison management program feels a little too much like “Groundhog Day,” and not progress.

“We have been here before and we will likely be here again,” Melton told the National Parks Traveler.

But some changes to the way park officials handle bison populations could be on their way. One option, put out by Montana’s Fish Wildlife and Parks Service looked at allowing bison onto almost 422,000 acres of National Forest land with no cattle in the upper Gallatin Basin, so the population could grow without severely damaging the area’s habitat.

It’s an option supported by environmentalists and bison lovers, but opposed by ranchers fearful the large animals could decimate livestock feeding grounds.

“Coming from a ranching family, I can see it from both sides. I can understand some of the concerns that ranchers have,” Kootenai wildlife manager Tom McDonald told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “But what we really need to do is just allow bison to get out and express themselves on the landscape, and over time through our diligence, people can become accustomed to them on the landscape.” your social media marketing partner


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+18 # geraldom 2014-12-28 23:50
Thank the ranchers who pay off our corrupt politicians and who want to rid themselves of not just the Bison, but the Wolves and the wild Mustangs.
-4 # Interested Observer 2014-12-29 00:53
There is no such thing as "wild Mustangs". Those are feral horses, domestic animals turned loose, not an endangered species. There have been no wild horses in North America since prehistoric times. These horses have more in common with Florida pythons than the bison.
+11 # RnR 2014-12-29 05:46
So hey, let's kill them all because you disagree with the terms used to describe them.

Why not kill everything living between the Mississippi and California (except of course any ranchers' cattle - we need those in order to insure a supply of CO2)
0 # Interested Observer 2014-12-31 10:12
Round them up, and do what we can, repair the damage. They do not deserve to be considered in the same way as native endangered species, when in fact they have more in common with other invasive species introduced by humans, nor should they be running loose or have special rights to do so.
+9 # Kev C 2014-12-29 00:37
Can't stand in the way of a profit now can we. Mother Nature takes a fall again for the corporatocracy and its minions. This won't change as long as the corruption in politics still exists. Stop the corruption and no amount of money will buy a hunting licence to slaughter animals more worthy than humans to the life granted them.
+7 # Glen 2014-12-29 08:16
Anything not living in a domestic setting, such as a corral, dog house, barn, is wild. There are wild cats, even. Thousands of cats are born in the wild every year. The horses, are, too.

Animals have a right to their territory and lives. Bison contribute to our environment and world enrichment, just as wolves do, and coyotes, and turtles, and and and...
+4 # Glen 2014-12-29 08:17
This is meant for Interested Observer, top of the list.
0 # geraldom 2014-12-29 15:22
Quoting Glen:
This is meant for Interested Observer, top of the list.

I think he got the point, Glen. But, unfortunately for some people, they grow up without a soul or a conscience and they will never understand.
+1 # Glen 2014-12-30 07:49
geraldom, there are too many folks out there who just don't get it. To them, the human world is all that matters. No understanding and no humility.
-1 # Interested Observer 2014-12-31 10:18
I rather think you don't get it. Humans made it happen, humans have the responsibility to clean it up. I am an enemy of the anthropic arrogance that permeates our culture, especially in environmental and religious areas. This adoration of the "wild horse" is such an example, in your human world, the pretty picture trumps natural history. These are your absentee pets that live is someone else's yard. Humans like cats, so few of them are ga ga for feral cats, and will not listen to anything about the damage feral cats do to other species in the area. That's another example of "human world", its cat fetish, trumping real world.
+3 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-12-29 09:57
For more on this pertinent issue, see:
0 # Interested Observer 2015-01-03 19:29
I find it amusing up there to get all those thumbs down for pointing out that wild horses are in fact feral domestic horses, an invasive species, not an endangered native species, and thus in no way comparable to the Bison.

It is almost as amusing to be criticized with "To them, the human world is all that matters. No understanding and no humility." when the argument on the horses, or feral cats for that matter, is exactly that the human world being placed over the natural world because the animals in question happen to be pets of the critics. So I can stand by the assertion that the feral animals (former domestic, non-native) have more in common with the Florida python than the Bison, but unlike the pythons, benefit from being adorable in the eyes of many. If you need any convincing, check out the efforts being expended in New Zealand to preserve several of the their native species from extinction brought on solely by feral cats.

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