BILLINGS, Mont. —
For Lawrence, that’s much preferred to shipping bison to slaughter, which the tribe argues violates its rights by removing animals that hunters otherwise could harvest.
“We would like to see the population at a level where there’s an annual migration,” he said, adding that the tribe “is not interested in seeing a gross movement of animals” to slaughter.
Hunting is not allowed inside the park, so Yellowstone administrators rely on the killing of animals that migrate into Montana to keep the population in check. Officials set a target of removing 400 bison this year.
A limited slaughter still is possible, park officials said, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking up to 63 bison this year for use in an experimental animal contraception program.
Several other tribes with treaty rights also participated in this year’s hunt, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
The Umatilla police chief, Tim Addleman, said seven Umatilla hunting parties took 48 bison after traveling from their reservation in Oregon to the Yellowstone area, a distance of almost 700 miles. Each hunting party included a tribal wildlife officer and at least four people in addition to the hunter.
The large crew is necessary to carry out the laborious task of butchering animals that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
The tribes combined took an estimated 211 bison. State-licensed hunters took 37 during a three-month season that ended Feb. 15.
Many bison carry the disease brucellosis. If transmitted to cattle, it can cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort their calves.
Despite recent changes in federal policy that eased trade sanctions against states with brucellosis-infected cattle, Montana’s livestock industry and its supporters are pushing to restore restrictions that would keep bison in the park.
That includes so-called “zero tolerance” bison legislation pending before the Montana Legislature and a state lawsuit that would reverse the state’s decision to allow the animals to roam largely free in the 75,000-acre Gardiner Basin.