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Yellowstone bison have gotten too close to the historic haunts of Yankee Jim, so hazing has begun in the Gardiner Basin.

Over the past few days, riders from the Department of Livestock and Fish, Wildlife & Parks made a handful of slow trips down the Gardiner Valley, each time pushing 100 or more bison back into Yellowstone National Park.

That will probably be the routine for the next few weeks until the bison are hazed back into the park for good on May 1.

“Our plan is to haze as needed to respond to any bison moving beyond the northern boundary,” said FWP Region 3 supervisor Pat Flowers. “We don't want them moving into the Paradise Valley.”

This is the second winter that Montana agencies have allowed bison to roam a larger area north of Gardiner and Yellowstone National Park, and more bison have taken advantage of it this year due to the deeper snows inside the park.

The expanded area — about 70,000 acres of mostly public land surrounding the Gardiner Basin extending 15 miles north to the mouth of Yankee Jim Canyon — is part of a 2011 adaptive adjustment to the Interagency Bison Management Plan to provide more territory for park bison at a time when brucellosis is not a threat.

A Montana district judge upheld the change in January 2013 after livestock producers and Park County sued the state. Last month, the Montana Supreme Court found Park County had no grounds to appeal.

This year, bison started migrating north to find food in late January, but most hesitated inside the park border until a few weeks ago, when the tribal hunt outside the park ended.

Since then, hundreds of bison have wandered as far north as Yankee Jim Canyon, which is where riders started pushing them back on Friday. Riders were also working on Saturday and Monday.

Flowers said bison have migrated into some of the drainages extending from the valley floor but not to the extent expected. But the agencies were prepared for the higher number of animals.

“We are still kind of learning where they want to go,” Flowers said. “We're learning how to manage them under this scenario, and it's going to take some flexibility. But there's good cooperation between all the agencies.”

Department of Livestock executive director Christian MacKay said a helicopter was used on Saturday mainly to find bison that had managed to wander outside the approved zone into the Tom Miner Basin.

The IBMP partners — DOL, FWP, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — are working together to limit the bison outside the park to about 300, MacKay said.

“They haven't been hard hazes,” MacKay said. “We've gone slow — it doesn't take a lot of encouragement to get them to move.”

FWP warden Sam Sheppard said the riders are hazing targeted groups of bison that either pose property-damage or human-safety issues or are too near the tolerance border.

Flowers said wardens have been able to respond to the complaints FWP has received.

As the month goes on, riders will look outside the park for places to leave the bison where they might not pose a risk. Riders recently left about 100 bison in the Eagle Creek area, Sheppard said.

Around 100 bison remained outside the park after a couple of hundred were moved in Monday's haze.

“We're responding to a fluid situation,” Sheppard said. “It's not a concerted effort to bring them all down. The other day we were bringing some down, and around 100 just went along with us.”

With three weeks to go until all bison must return to the park, riders are down in the Gardiner area for the duration.

Sheppard said the Gardiner FWP warden was working every day, keeping an eye on the bison boundaries, staying in touch with landowners and working with the other IBMP partners.

Sheppard said a couple of landowners called Monday interested in the bison fencing offered by the Defenders of Wildlife.

In addition, the speed limit along U.S. Highway 89 through the valley was reduced this weekend to 55 mph while bison are in the area.

“We're using every tool we have to be proactive,” Sheppard said.

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