Bison management plan stalled as tribe disagrees with state and federal agencies on herd reduction


Federal, state and tribal officials typically reach agreement on goals for reducing the Yellowstone bison herd by the first day of the year. But that hasn’t happened yet because one of the tribes wants to see fewer bison taken.

Emails from Yellowstone Public Radio obtained through a request for the records show that the Nez Perce tribe wants fewer bison removed than Yellowstone National Park is offering.

The 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 and 900 animals from the herd, and potentially 200 more if initial goals are met. Animals are removed through tribal hunting, sent to slaughter, or a quarantine program that transfers bison to tribes in the United States

Park data shows that 187 bison were removed in the winter of 2020-21 — well below that year’s reduction goal, says Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. He says the higher target this year will help keep the bison population stable.

“We are currently achieving a stable to slightly declining population,” he said. “We are not achieving a growing 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 about 700 bison were to be removed. The tribe declined to comment on the requested changes.

Email records show that, so far, 4 of 8 interagency partners, including Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Montana Department of Livestock, disagree with the Nez Perce Tribe on the goal of lower reduction. An updated winter operations plan that will guide bison population reductions has yet to be shared with the public.

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