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National Park Service asks for input on draft bison management plan

A bison standing off the road in Yellowstone National Park.
Jackie Yamanaka
Yellowstone Public Radio

The National Park Service on Thursday released a draft plan for managing bison within Yellowstone National Park. The plan includes options for increasing bison numbers, but not by as much as initially proposed.

The draft environmental impact statement analyzes three alternatives for managing bison within the park with numbers ranging between about 3,500-7000 bison after calving.

“This plan allows the NPS to evaluate bison management based on new scientific information and changed circumstances, explore ways to reduce bison being sent to slaughter, and to continue working closely with Tribal Nations and agency partners in management,” the park service wrote in a release.

The first option would keep managing bison in a population range similar to where they have been the past two decades: between 3,500-5000.

The second option would prioritize tribal hunting and transferring live bison to tribal nations, and bring the number up to around 6,000 animals.

Option three would cease the controversial management tool of shipping animals to slaughter, but says that could be reinstated if there are management issues. This option would primarily rely on natural selection and public and tribal hunter harvests, and increase the number to about 7,000.

The 7,000 number is about a thousand fewer bison than the highest range management option the park service had previously put forward in a January 2022 notice of intentto prepare the recently released environmental impact statement.

The intent to increase the amount of Yellowstone bison was met with resistance from Montana’s Governor and the Head of the Department of Livestock who requestedthat the park service withdraw its initial options and keep bison numbers closer to 3,000.

The public will have an opportunity to learn more about the proposed bison management alternatives during two webinars being held on August 28 and 29.

Comments are due September 25. The final bison management plan is anticipated to be released next year.

Corrected: August 14, 2023 at 10:35 AM MDT
The radio version of this story incorrectly stated the park service’s notice of intent was released in January 2023. The correct date for the release was in January of 2022.

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.