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Bison management plan stalls as tribe disagrees with state and federal agencies on herd reductions

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Jackie Yamanaka
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Yellowstone Public Radio/File photo

Federal, state and tribal officials typically come to an agreement on Yellowstone bison herd reduction goals by the first of the year. But, that hasn’t happened yet as one of the tribes wants to see fewer bison removed.

Emails Yellowstone Public Radio obtained through a records request show the Nez Perce Tribe wants fewer bison removed than what Yellowstone National Park is proposing.

Records requested included email communications between the Nez Perce Tribe and Interagency Bison Management agencies including Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Park managers want to remove between 600 - 900 animals from the herd, and potentially 200 more if initial targets are met. Animals are removed through tribal hunting, sent to slaughter, or a quarantine program that transfers bison to tribes around the U.S.

Park data shows 187 bison were removed during the 2020-21 winter — well below that year's reduction target, says Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. He says the higher target this year will help maintain a steady bison population.

“We’re currently managing to a stable to slightly declining population," he said. "We’re not managing to an increasing population at this point.”

About two weeks after the Interagency Bison Management team last met in December, the Nez Perce tribe requested that the reduction target be the same as last year, when around 700 bison were slated for removal. The tribe declined to comment on their requested modifications.

Email records show that, so far, 4 of the 8 interagency partners, including Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Montana Department of Livestock, disagree with the Nez Perce tribe on the lower reduction target. An updated winter operations plan that will guide bison population reductions has not yet been shared with the public.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.