Updated: Yellowstone extends comment period for bison management plan after high volume of comments

By: - September 21, 2023 3:29 pm

A picture of a herd of bison (National Park Service via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Given the volume of comments, Yellowstone National Park has extended the public comment period for its draft Bison Management Environmental Impact Statement until Oct. 10.

“We’ve received nearly 2,000 comments so far,” a park spokesperson said Thursday in an email. “At the end of the 60-day public comment period, we’ll analyze and consider all of the comments and prepare a final EIS. The final EIS is expected to be released in 2024.”

In a news release Thursday, the park said the purpose of the statement is to preserve an ecologically sustainable population of bison while continuing to work with other agencies on related issues. Those issues include brucellosis transmission, human safety, property damage, and supporting tribal hunting outside the park.

The draft EIS outlines options for how park officials deal with the animals inside the park. The alternatives consider bison management likely to occur outside the park in Montana too, although Yellowstone said it does not have jurisdiction or control of bison outside park boundaries.

“This plan allows the NPS (National Park Service) 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 said in the news release.

The slaughter of bison has been controversial.

The Daily Montanan previously reported the park had a target bison population of 3,000 based on a 2002 agreement. The population has grown to more than 6,000, and 1,600 have been removed, although not all by slaughtering.

However, this year, the number of bison taken is higher than average, more than 900 killed compared to 486 in 2016, the park said in March. At the time, the park attributed the increase to more hunters exercising treaty rights.

In the news release, Yellowstone describes three management alternatives as follows:

Alternative 1: The NPS would continue management of bison pursuant to the existing Interagency Bison Management Plan, approved in 2000. This would maintain a population range of bison similar to the last two decades (3,500 to 5,000 bison after calving), continue hunt-trap coordination to balance population regulation in the park by using culling and hunting opportunities outside the park, increase the number of brucellosis-free bison relocated to tribal lands via the Bison Conservation Transfer Program, and work with the State of Montana to manage the already low risk of brucellosis spreading from bison to cattle.

Alternative 2: Bison would be managed within a population range of about 3,500 to 6,000 animals after calving with an emphasis on using the conservation program to restore bison to tribal lands and tribal treaty hunting outside the park to regulate numbers.

Alternative 3: The NPS would rely on natural selection, bison dispersal, and public and tribal harvests in Montana as the primary tools to regulate numbers, which would likely range from 3,500 to 7,000 or more animals after calving.

In the news release, the park said people and organizations may provide comments online. They also may mail or deliver comments to: Superintendent, Attn: Bison Management Plan, PO Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190.

Yellowstone said the extension allows the public a full 60 days to comment, 15 more days than before.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.