Bison operations began in Yellowstone National Park Friday afternoon, February 16, 2018, with bison being corralled into Stephens Creek.
According to a Yellowstone press release, there are 96 bison currently at Stephens Creek. Some will be quarantined while others will be transferred to Native American tribes and shipped to slaughter.
The release adds that bison operations may continue through March.
Each winter, state, federal, and tribal agencies work under the Interagency Bison Management Plan to reduce the number of bison in the Yellowstone herd. Bison are managed out of fear that they will spread brucellosis to cattle, although there have been no documented bison-to-cattle transmission cases.
This year, the IBMP calls for 600 to 900 bison to be culled, which would stabilize or slightly decrease the number of bison in the park.
The IBMP culls bison through hunting and slaughter. The meat and hides of slaughtered bison are distributed among area tribes. Currently, six Native American tribes have hunting rights to bison outside Yellowstone, following the recognition of the Blackfeet Nation’s rights this year. Last week, the Crow Tribe announced they would assert treaty rights to bison hunting as well. The hunt is also open to the public.
However, the hunt this year was particularly slow, with fewer bison venturing outside park boundaries. This could lead to more intensive bison operations around Stephens Creek.
In recent years, Yellowstone National Park has sought to shift the bison conversation away from slaughter and more toward quarantine. Last year, the park started converting part of Stephens Creek into a certifiable quarantine facility, where bison could be cleared of brucellosis and (hopefully) shipped to other herds around the country.
The push for more standardized quarantining came last winter after some bison promised to the Fort Peck Tribes were nearly shipped for slaughter.
Both IBMP and quarantining are controversial practices, subject to fierce criticism from environmental and animal rights groups who advocate for bison to be left alone. Last month, for instance, someone released 52 bison from Stephens Creek that were being held there on quarantine. A criminal investigation was opened into the matter.
Another interesting development in the bison saga came earlier this month, when a federal judge ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider whether Yellowstone bison merit protection under the Endangered Species Act. Such a ruling would, of course, change the course of bison operations.