Groups ask U.S. Forest Service to close Beattie Gulch to hunting

Area was location where most bison from Yellowstone were killed last winter

By: - November 18, 2023 10:00 am

Bison move north out of Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park (Photo by Jacob Frank of the National Park Service | Photo via Flickr).

A group of bison conservation proponents asked the Custer Gallatin National Forest superintendent Thursday to close Beattie Gulch to hunting – the same area where hundreds of the animals were killed primarily by tribal hunters last winter.

Representatives for Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Roam Free Nation, the Council for Wildlife and Fish, and the Gallatin Wildlife Association wrote a letter to Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson saying they are concerned for public safety for people who live in and visit the gulch just north of the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

“Since the ‘hunting season’ opened on Nov. 15, it seems prudent at this time to ask that you consider an emergency closure of the Beattie Gulch area to the hunting activities for a number of very good reasons,” the groups’ leaders wrote in the letter. “These range from the public safety concerns regarding endangerment of the people involved in shooting and monitoring to the impacts on the local residents – and of course the wildlife that was drawn to the vast and unnatural amount of concentrated offal left rotting on the landscape.”

The groups have been vocal in their opposition to what they call a “slaughter” of bison that occurred during the extremely cold and snowy previous winter, when tribal hunters and a handful of hunters with Montana tags killed more than 1,100 bison that left the park in search of forage.

They also pointed to complaints from Beattie Gulch residents about bullets flying by their homes and a ricochet wound that a Nez Perce hunter received last year as reasons the area should be closed to hunting.

The group pointed to a brief 2011 closure of Beattie Gulch as precedent, when the Forest Service closed the area because grizzly bears were eating an elk that had been killed by a hunter.

“As Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said in a statement. “The Forest Service should take that good advice, follow public safety protocol and precedent, and close Beattie Gulch to buffalo hunting before someone gets killed.”

Marna Daley, a spokesperson for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said the Forest had just received the request and had not had time to review it on Thursday afternoon. Daley also noted that Montana and the tribes selfregulate their hunting restrictions and seasons, and that the Forest in 2021 permanently closed hunting along Old Yellowstone Trail, which borders the Forest land at Beattie Gulch.

“We will continue to work with the State of Montana, Park County and the treaty hunt Tribes to monitor the hunt,” Daley said. “At this time, there are currently no bison in the Beattie Gulch area.”

While the tribes and state each have their own hunting seasons, the winter weather and bison’s migration patterns play the biggest role in how many bison are hunted for meat each year.

Since last winter was the coldest and snowiest in at least a decade, more bison left the park. Park officials estimate 60-70% of the park’s total herd went to the Gardiner area, and about 1,200 were prevented from leaving the boundary, 800 of which were returned to the park.

After starting the winter with a herd size of about 6,000, the total dropped below 4,000 after the winter, but had rebounded to about 4,800 after the calving season.

Yellowstone’s Senior Bison Biologist Chris Geremia recommended at an Interagency Bison Plan Management team meeting on Oct. 31 that no more than 1,100 are removed this winter in the event they leave the park again in order to keep the herd’s numbers from again falling below 4,000.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that 800 of the 1,200 bison captured by the park, according to park officials, were returned this summer.

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.