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Montana Court Denies Temporary Halt Of Bison Hunt

Three bison walk through deep snow at Yellowstone National Park.
National Park Service
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
This image shows 3 bison in the snow at Yellowstone National Park.

A federal court in Montana denied a temporary halt on the winter bison hunt near Yellowstone National Park on Monday. 

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters declined to stop the long fought over hunt after not seeing evidence that residents near Gardiner would be permanently harmed by it.

Gardiner resident Bonnie Lynn and a group of locals sued to stop the hunt this fall, saying it was unsafe to residents, hunters and visitors.

Bison migrate out of Yellowstone every winter in search of food at lower elevations. Their path funnels through Beattie Gulch, a small area of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, where hunters wait for the animals to arrive.

It’s across the road from Lynn’s home where she has rental property.

Watters’ order said there wasn’t sufficient evidence that the hunt has a negative impact on businesses, increases the risk of brucellosis or causes irreparable trauma because “the Plaintiffs could choose not to watch the bison hunt.”

Watters wrote halting the hunt would, however, likely cause hardship on the tribes who rely on bison for food and cultural preservation. Treaty rights were also taken into consideration.

Several tribal representatives at the Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting in West Yellowstone Tuesday said they could not comment on the litigation. The group cooperatively looks at bison management in the area.

Nathan Varley, president of Bear Creek Council, a citizens group from Gardiner that works on wildlife issues, says he understands why the lawsuit was filed.

“In the winter when the hunt is going on, there’s of course a lot of traffic, gunfire, carcasses, that sort of thing going on, and I could see how that would be a difficult thing to either live with or run a business around,” Varley said. 

The lawsuit filed by Gardiner locals is challenging the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. A judge moved the lawsuit from a federal district court in the District of Columbia to Montana in November.

“Now as this works its way through the court process, there will be a schedule of briefings and all the other legal steps, and I wouldn’t speculate on how long that would take and how that process will play out,” says Mary Erickson, forest supervisor for Custer Gallatin National Forest. 

Montana’s hunting season for bison began November 15 and extends into February. The tribes set their own start and end dates.

Around 100 bison were harvested by hunters last winter.