The Crow Tribe want to become the seventh tribe permitted to hunt Yellowstone bison and elk outside the park during winter.
According to the Billings Gazette, the tribe is working to assert treaty hunting rights. Reportedly, the tribe has spoken for years about asserting rights, but hasn’t laid the groundwork for recognition.
Bison are an important part of intertribal culture on the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, as they were a major source of food and other resources for tribes—and continue to be.
The news comes after the Blackfeet Nation became the sixth tribe allowed to hunt bison north of Yellowstone. The Blackfeet, along with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Nez Perce Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and the Confederate Tribes of the Yakama Nation, have all sent hunters and game wardens down for this year’s hunt.
According to the Gazette, the news is not entirely welcome:
Adding one more tribal group to the hunting is likely to make a congested area even more overrun. Mike Volesky, FWP’s chief of staff, told a legislative committee last year, “The treaty hunt is really getting to capacity.”
“It’s kind of an evolving situation,” said Greg Lemon, FWP information chief in Helena, on Wednesday. “We’re in communication with (the Crow) now to sort things out like we have with the other tribes down there.”
Attempts to contact someone at the Crow Tribe were unsuccessful. Out of six reservation bison herds in Montana, the Crow Tribe has the largest, last estimated in 2010 at 1,000 animals.
Bison are hunted and slaughtered each year under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which seeks to cull bison and prevent their spread out of the park. Most bison taken under the IBMP are rounded up in the Stephens Creek Bison Capture Facility in northern Yellowstone, where they are either shipped to slaughter or kept as part of a trial quarantine program.
Bison are managed out of fear they’ll spread brucellosis to cattle, a disease that causes cattle to abort and is prohibitively expensive for cattle managers who either have to quarantine or liquidate herds. To date, there has never been a case of bison-to-cattle brucellosis transmission—though there have been cases of elk-to-cattle transmission.
Bison management is routinely, severely criticized by conservation, environmental, and animal rights groups, who advocate for bison to be left alone and allowed to roam.
Hunting typically takes place in northern Yellowstone outside Gardiner and outside West Yellowstone, Montana. This year, the hunting season has been especially slow, with fewer animals coming out of the park. However, this is par for the course. From the Gazette:
On its website, Yellowstone National Park says that using hunting as a means to reduce bison populations “has been ineffective at limiting bison numbers,” partly because the hunting area is so small. Once hunters pressure the animals they often move to secure areas, like back inside the park, where they can’t be shot.
“For hunting to become more effective, bison need greater access to public lands outside the park, like wild elk and other animals, so they can disperse beyond our boundaries and pioneer new areas,” the park’s website says.
This year, IBMP officials called for 600 to 900 bison to be culled from the Yellowstone herd. It is not known whether they will meet that goal.
In recent years, Yellowstone officials have pushed for less slaughter and to shift focus instead on quarantining bison and clearing them of brucellosis—the only hurdle preventing their movement and shipment outside the park.
Another factor that may impact bison management going ahead is a recent court decision against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled the USFWS must reconsider whether to list Yellowstone bison on the Endangered Species List—a ruling that would necessitate big changes in bison management.