Crow tribal members are working with the state of Montana to establish their right to hunt Yellowstone National Park bison, the Billings Gazette reports.
The Crow tribe wants to be included in an annual, multi-tribe hunt. Bison leave the park and drift into Montana in the winter and early spring, and tribal hunters are allowed (either through limited bison-hunting licenses or treaty hunting rights) to bag a few of the beasts.
The hunts avail food for the tribes and help control the bison population within the park. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency works with the tribes to oversee the hunts and manage bison-population levels.
“The Crow are working through the director’s office to make everything legitimate,” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ law-enforcement chief Dave Loewen told the Billings Gazette. “They’ve talked about it every year but never put themselves on the ground.”
The parks’ bison population has recovered from about two dozen in 1902 to more than 4,800 in August. Now, the park has a new problem in that the bison population will not stop growing, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
The bison population grows fast — anywhere from 10-to-17 percent a year — and could quickly overcrowd the park. Too many bison would destroy the environment and eat or trample the grass, leading to mass starvation of bison herds.
A similar wild-horses problem has developed in the West. Herds are more than twice the size their federal-land habitat can support. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing the population but has already captured more than the agency can hold. The agency is also prohibited from management tools that could bring down the populations to manageable levels — such as selling horses to packing plants.
Hunting Yellowstone’s bison outside the park has helped control the population, but herds perpetually grow as the animals move back into the protected area soon after interaction with hunters. The NPS captures wild bison near the borders of Yellowstone and sell them to the tribes for meat and management.
The NPS is currently looking into alternate, management plans for the bison — including moving some to new, conservation areas and expanding the area they are free to roam and graze on. Landowners and ranchers have pushed back on the latter plan, however, as bison carry diseases that can be spread to cattle through contact with infected areas of the body.
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