Over 550 Yellowstone bison have been killed through hunting and slaughter this winter season.
That number puts bison managers comfortably in sight of their goal to remove 600 to 900 bison from the Yellowstone herd.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 328 bison have been shipped from Stephens Creek to slaughter and hunters have killed 234. Yellowstone biologist Rick Wallen told the Chronicle “this is the kind of year where we can actually make some progress at the objectives that were set forth.”
The news comes on the heels of a demonstration at Stephens Creek, where three protesters were arrested at the facility. Two of the protesters had chained themselves to the squeeze chute, where staff take blood samples from bison in preparation for slaughter, while a third was seen leaving the facility.
As of writing, the trio is still in jail, with a detention hearing scheduled for Monday, March 12, 2018.
Bison management around Yellowstone National Park has always been contentious, with vocal criticism from environmental and animal rights groups, which see the program as cruel and unnecessary.
Bison are hunted and slaughtered every year under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which seeks to prevent bison from moving outside the park out of fear they’ll spread brucellosis to cattle.
The IBMP’s ultimate goal is for Yellowstone’s bison population to be held to around 3,000. At last estimate, Yellowstone’s bison population measures 4,800. Removing 600 would keep the population stable while removing 900 would lead to a decrease.
In recent years, the park has proposed converting part of Stephens Creek into a quarantine facility where bison can be screened for brucellosis ad subsequently shipped to other herds around the country. From the Chronicle:
Wallen said there were roughly 750 bison in the park’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility on Friday. He said managers of the facility were authorized to continue capturing through the weekend. Meat from slaughtered bison is distributed to Native American tribes.
The park will hold back 98 bison for a potential brucellosis quarantine operation, Wallen said. Quarantining bison would certify them as free of the disease, which can cause animals to abort and is feared by the livestock industry. Disease-free bison could be used to create new wild herds or augment existing ones.
Some bison advocates see quarantine as a way to reduce the number slaughtered each year. Others see it as the domestication and commercialization of wild animals.
Indeed, earlier this year, a pair of incidents threw the debate over bison quarantine into sharp relief. Mid-January, an individual cut fences at Stephens Creek, releasing 52 bison who had been held there since at least 2016. A month later, fences were cut again, with over 70 bison escaping, although most returned shortly thereafter.
The National Park Service has initiated criminal investigations into both matters. The park has also said it will increase security around Stephens Creek, but has not released any details as to what that would entail.
Bison operations are expected to last through March. Most hunting seasons have closed, although a few will last until March 17 (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation) and March 18 (Nez Perce Tribe).