Yellowstone Bison Escape

In this March 9, 2016, file photo, a group of Yellowstone National Park bison await shipment to slaughter inside a holding pen along the park’s northern border near Gardiner.

Matthew Brown

More than 550 bison have been killed through hunting and ship-to-slaughter so far this winter and bison managers seem assured to reach the cull goal for the year.

Yellowstone National Park biologist Rick Wallen said Friday afternoon that 328 bison have been shipped to slaughter so far. According to a report from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, hunters have killed another 234, bringing the overall total near the lower end of bison managers’ removal target of between 600 and 900 animals.

“This is the kind of year where we can actually make some progress at the objectives that were set forth,” Wallen said.

Hunting and slaughter take place each year as part of a multi-agency agreement that calls for a bison population of about 3,000. More than 1,200 bison were killed last year, the largest number in a decade.

Prior to this year’s cull, park biologists estimated there were about 4,800 bison in the park. Removing 600 would keep the population near stable, while 900 would result in a more significant decrease.

Hunters licensed through six tribal nations and the state of Montana take aim at bison each year. The largest share of those have been taken by the Nez Perce Tribe, which has harvested nearly 80 bison.

Hunters licensed through Montana took 46 bison.

Most hunting seasons have closed. The Nez Perce Tribe’s season closes March 18. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation hunting season closes March 17.

Wallen said there were roughly 750 bison in the park’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility on Friday. He said managers of the facility were authorized to continue capturing through the weekend. Meat from slaughtered bison is distributed to Native American tribes.

The park will hold back 98 bison for a potential brucellosis quarantine operation, Wallen said. Quarantining bison would certify them as free of the disease, which can cause animals to abort and is feared by the livestock industry. Disease-free bison could be used to create new wild herds or augment existing ones.

Some bison advocates see quarantine as a way to reduce the number slaughtered each year. Others see it as the domestication and commercialization of wild animals.

Yellowstone National Park upgraded fences in two corrals at its bison trap last year to meet federal standards for a quarantine facility. Two groups of bull bison were held in the corrals until January, when a saboteur set the animals free.

The park is investigating that incident. It is also investigating a second illegal release of bison that came a few weeks later.

Last week, three protesters were arrested near the bison trap, including two men who had chained themselves to a squeeze chute used to gather blood samples from bison. A hearing for the three protesters will be held Monday morning.

Michael Wright can be reached at or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.