Yellowstone officials are planning to cull 500 – 700 bison this winter. The cull is apart of a management plan designed to prevent the spreading of brucellosis to livestock in the area. The final culling numbers were set during a meeting at the beginning of December.
The culling process will be a two-part plan. Firstly, the park will rely on hunters to help them cull some of the herd. Every year some bison leave the park and migrate north looking for food sources. Once the bison are off of the National Park hunters are able to take them as long as they have a valid permit for the season. Secondly, the remaining bison that hunters do not take will be rounded up and shipped off to be slaughtered. During recent years the captured bison would be moved to various locations and put into quarantine holding pens to be monitored. However, this year none of the captured bison will be quarantined. This is mostly, due to the holding locations already being full of bison that need to quarantine.
Brucellosis in Bison
Brucellosis is an infectious disease (Like we haven’t had enough of those already) that affects bison, elk, and cattle. It can cause weight loss, infertility, abortions, and low milk production in infected animals. Many livestock ranchers and workers fear that bison could transmit the disease to neighboring cattle. However, none of these transmissions have ever been recorded while the bison are in the wild. In certain areas, however, elk have been been able to transmit the disease to other members of their herds once infected. It is thought that the elk were infected by wild bison in the area.
Culling Bison in Yellowstone
National Park officials have been organizing annual culls for some time now. These culls help keep the spread of brucellosis in check. Likewise, these culls are an important tool in keeping the bison population managed properly. Park officials worry that without the cull too many bison could degrade and damage the landscape. Official estimates show that there are roughly 4,730 bison in the Park at this time. During last years culling an estimated 834 bison were removed from the park. Officials do population counts annually. During the most recent counts, it was found that male bison significantly outnumber female bison within the park. As a result, Yellowstone officials recommended that only male bison be targeted for the cull if herds migrate later than normal.
Members of seven federally-recognized tribes hunt bison in the annual cull to exercise their treaty rights. At Beattie Gulch, just outside the park border near Gardiner, hunters line up and wait for bison to cross the park border onto Forest Service land, where they can be shot. The act of shooting along Beattie Gulch has drawn lawsuits from residents and conservation groups, who say it is unsafe. as a result, The U.S. Forest Service and the Yellowstone Park Service agreed to update the Bison Management Plan because of the said legal issues. For now, hunting still continues in the area.