An effort to update the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) has been delayed due to intense interagency deliberation.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, in 2015 the state of Montana and Yellowstone National Park planned to draft a new IBMP. They also promised to release a draft environmental analysis in 2016, followed by a final plan this year. So far, this has not happened.
Meetings to discuss the rewrite are scheduled for later this spring.
According to Yellowstone biologist Rick Wallen, “The short version of the answer is it’s not going smoothly … it’s pretty much on hold.” From the Chronicle:
The current Interagency Bison Management Plan was crafted in 2000, coming after about a decade of haggling and a lawsuit over the migration of Yellowstone bison into Montana. The plan calls for a population of about 3,000, and it’s the reason bison are shipped to slaughter. Prior to this year’s cull, park biologists estimated that 5,500 bison live in Yellowstone.
In 2015, when they started working on the rewrite, state and park officials both said it was outdated. Initial documents released about the plan rewrite included a wide array of management concepts, including some with very active management and some which would take a more hands-off approach to bison management.
A public comment period in spring 2015 raked in thousands of comments. That fall, the park released a document that compiled the issues raised and told the Chronicle a draft environmental analysis would be out the following summer. A draft has not been released.
Jennifer Carpenter, the chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, said through a park spokeswoman Friday that winter operations and the complexity of bison management have stalled the plan. She added that park officials met with state officials last fall about the plan but haven’t agreed on a range of management possibilities to consider in an environmental analysis.
Much of the debate over an IBMP rewrite has centered on the topic of brucellosis, as well as conflicting notions of what bison management should entail.
Yellowstone National Park, for instance, wants more tolerance of bison outside of the Park, both in Montana and in other conservation areas around the country.
The Montana Department of Livestock, meanwhile, prefers that bison stay confined to a small area—so long as brucellosis is still a factor, however small. Livestock officials also say they want to prioritize research of the disease.
There have been no documented cases of brucellosis transfer between bison and cattle. Further, a growing body of study shows that elk are more likely to transmit brucellosis to cattle than bison.
Officials also clashed over the prospect of shipping bison to a quarantine facility at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. State veterinarian Marty Zaluski told the Chronicle that discussion of the facility “consumed a lot of oxygen.” We previously reported that 24 bull bison will be shipped to Fort Peck at a later date, after spending time in some USDA corrals in Corwin Springs. The tribe was originally promised 40 bison, both males and females.
Earlier this year, state representative Willis Curdy introduced a bill that would permit the transport of bison outside of Yellowstone even if they tested positive for brucellosis but the House Agriculture Committee tabled it—after the livestock industry broached their brucellosis concerns.
So far, nearly 1,000 bison have been hunted and slaughtered as part of the current IBMP. Officials have a goal of culling up to 1,300 bison this season. We previously reported Yellowstone officials, including biologist Wallen, had called for changes to the program, saying they want less of an emphasis on slaughter.
Some advocacy groups, such as the Gallatin Wildlife Association, say a rewrite would offer managers the best chance to rethink bison management going ahead. GWA president Glenn Hockett told the Chronicle, “The biggest thing is to find additional habitat for bison outside of the park … That doesn’t mean they won’t be managed. We need to manage them when there’s a conflict … not just capture them at the border and slaughter them.”