Tribal legislators in Montana are backing a bill to extend and add to the issuance of bison hunting licenses to reservations and the Little Shell Tribe.
According to the Billings Gazette, the Montana House of Representatives’ Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee heard testimony on House Bill 108 this week, which would extend a law passed in 2005 and increase the tag cap from the 80 currently issued to state applicants. Under the bill, two tags would be provided to each reservation, as well as the Little Shell Tribe. From the Gazette:
“We would like to see it increased to five,” said Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer. “We feel like the buffalo are part of our tradition and what we do with them is important.”
That was echoed by two other American Indian legislators who testified in support of the bill. No one spoke in opposition to the measure.
Sen. Lea Whitford, D-Cut Bank, also said the number should be increased. “Bison are an important cultural component of who we are,” she said.
The state already allows four tribes with treaty rights to hunt bison that migrate out of Yellowstone National Park, only one of which is a Montana tribe — the Confederated Salish and Kootenai. Those treaty tribes regulate their own hunters. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks also issues 80 tags annually through a drawing to other hunters who apply.
Increasing the number of tags given to the eight tribes beyond two could make the small region where bison are hunted outside of Yellowstone in Montana even more crowded, warned Mike Volesky, FWP’s chief of staff.
“The treaty hunt is really getting to capacity,” he said, which at times has resulted in the harvest of up to 400 bison.
Adding more hunters to the area could be a safety concern as well as exceed local residents’ tolerance of bison hunters, Volesky noted.
“We are a little bit loath to add more,” he said.
The news coincides with a temporary shooting ban instituted by the U.S. Forest Service in two favorite spots for bison hunters outside Gardiner.
Per the Gazette, Representative Kerry White (R-Bozeman) asked Volesky whether the agency had considered letting tribal bison hunting inside Yellowstone National Park, a proposal previously voiced by the Montana Environmental Quality Council.
Volesky demurred, saying his agency had no jurisdiction inside Yellowstone.