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Yellowstone superintendent offers to work with Montana on fourth potential option for new bison plan

Neal Herbert

The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park says he’ll work with the state of Montana on a fourth potential option for the park service to consider as it updates a 22-year old bison management plan. The offer comes after the state asked the park service to throw out all of the potential options it previously put forward.

Montana isn’t on board with the park’s proposals to keep its bison population similar to where it is today at 5,500 or increase it to as much as 8,000 animals. In comments to the park’s proposed bison plan updates obtained through a public records request, the state asks that the park withdraw, or at least reconsider, the three potential options the National Park Service drafted.

Speaking at the Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting on Wednesday in Bozeman, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly re-extended his offer to come up with another alternative.

“If the state would like to see a completely different alternative considered, we are absolutely willing to work with the state and cooperate with them to develop a fourth alternative and include it in the analysis,” he said.

The state of Montana holds three of nine seats on the Interagency Bison Management Plan, represented by the Montana State Veterinarian; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and the Department of Livestock. They did not put forward any suggestions or modifications to the bison plan at the meeting.

“[Cam Sholly]’s given us the opportunity to talk about potential other alternatives, and so I think that’s an invitation we’ll accept," Mike Honeycutt with the Livestock Department told YPR. "There’s no scheduled meeting at the present time."

Eastern Shoshone Tribal Member Jason Baldes is a board member with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, a bison restoration organization representing more than 60 tribes. He was disappointed to hear about the state’s request. He says the bison plan options the park put forth came out of working closely with tribal partners.

“It’s very unfortunate because of the long process that the IBMP has gone through," he said. "These alternatives have science backing them. They also have the interests of the tribes, the treaty tribes and those that want to see more animals get out of the park alive."

Baldes says the park’s proposals to increase the bison population is key to growing tribal herds outside of the park. A bison conversation transfer program sends live bison to tribes around the country.

Park officials say they plan to release a draft bison plan in October.

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.