Bison operations have ended today and the final numbers are incoming.
According to Park spokesperson Amy Bartlett, speaking to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, officials estimate around 550 bison were culled this year.
At previous count, managers were hoping to remove at least 600 bison and upwards of 900 through either hunting or slaughter. So while this tally is below managers’ quota, it’s not far off the mark. And it’s not final, given that hunter numbers still need to be quantified. From the Chronicle:
“The number will probably go up,” Bartlett said.
Recent Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks counts put hunter harvest above 400 bison, and the park caught 150 bison at the Stephens Creek capture facility. Of those, 93 were shipped to slaughter by the Intetribal Buffalo Council.
Bartlett said park staff killed another 20 bison that were injured during the hunt and wandered back into the park. They estimate another 15 or 20 that were injured and returned to the park likely died on their own.
Bartlett’s estimate also doesn’t include the 57 bison that are still in the corrals at Stephens Creek. Park officials are considering sending some of those bison — which all tested negative for the disease brucellosis — to a quarantine operation on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. A decision is expected this spring.
Indeed, the quarantine program was one of several initiatives offered this year to counter culling in the future. The other came in the form of a declaration from Montana Governor Steve Bullock, signaling his interest in letting bison roam year-round in parts of southern and southwestern Montana. It’s not known when the Interagency Bison Management Plan agencies will meet to discuss his initiative, which has been getting some pushback in the state.
For comparison, last year’s bison operations culled 737 animals, falling short of a soft goal of 900. Last November, IBMP partners proposed culling 1,000 bison, but later backed down after discussions led to “something of an impasse.” As a compromise, the hunting season was extended and the trapping season was dramatically shortened.
The Chronicle notes it’s not unprecedented for hunters to kill more bison than managers shipping them off to slaughter; it happened in 1989. However, this year could signal a sea change in bison management in and around Yellowstone, between the quarantine program and Governor Bullock’s proposal.
There’s also the matter of a lawsuit brought against Yellowstone and the National Park Service over access to the Stephens Creek Bison Facility. While the suit doesn’t call for the facility’s closure or immediate changes in management, it does implicitly challenge the cull.