Three Park County, Montana men plead guilty to poaching bison outside of Yellowstone National Park earlier this year.
The announcement comes amid a spate of protests surrounding the hunting and slaughter of Yellowstone bison.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Jesse Darr, Ryley Heidt, and Peyton Simmons plead guilty to “unlawful possession, waste, and hunting during a closed season.” The incident occurred February 28, 2018.
According to the agency, FWP officials discovered three dead bison March 2, 2018 in Beattie Gulch, a band of U.S. Forest Service land near the park. The bison had their heads removed and their bodies left to rot. The skulls were skinned and hidden nearby.
Each man was ordered to pay $2,605 in fines and sentenced to an 18-month suspended jail sentence. All three men also lost their fishing, hunting, and trapping privileges for 54 months (four and a half years) and will not be able to apply for permits for an additional five years, following the reinstatement of privileges. Each will also undergo “remedial hunter education.”
Forest Service and National Park Service officials aided FWP wardens in their search for the men, prompting thanks from FWP Warden Sgt. Coy Cline.
The press release also has a shoutout to FWP canine Kikka, who helped sniff out evidence for the trial.
As mentioned, this poaching incident comes at a very contentious time. Each winter, Yellowstone bison are hunted and slaughtered under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which calls for bison numbers to be reduced to 3,000 and for bison to be kept in park boundaries—out of fear they’ll spread brucellosis to cattle.
Environmental and animal advocacy groups criticize Yellowstone bison management as cruel and unnecessary.
Indeed, just last week, a pair of protesters chained themselves to the squeeze chute at Stephens Creek in northern Yellowstone, where bison are held and tested for brucellosis before either being shipped to slaughter or held in quarantine. An additional person was arrested in relation to the pair.
All three belong to Wild Bison Defense, a group that seeks to highlight living conditions for Yellowstone bison and protest their treatment. The Buffalo Field Campaign, another bison advocacy group, issued a statement of solidarity with Wild Bison Defense shortly after the arrests.
All three were held in jail for six days prior to their hearing this week. At that hearing, the trio plead guilty to charges of interfering with agency operations and trespassing. They were argued to pay fines, perform community service, and are banned from Yellowstone National Park for five years.
This protest came on the heels of two instances of sabotage, where Yellowstone bison being kept at Stephens Creek were released. The first occurred in January after someone cut fences at the facility, releasing 52 bison. In February, fences were cut again, releasing over 70 bison, although most returned to the pen before crews patched things up.
So far, over 550 Yellowstone bison have been killed this season through IBMP-mandated hunting and slaughter, putting partner agencies well within their goal of removing 600 to 900 bison from the Yellowstone herd.