Bison on Horse Butte

Bison are hazed off of the Horse Butte area north of West Yellowstone in June 2011 by Montana and federal government agencies on horseback and ATV.

In what could be a landmark management change, Horse Butte may become home to bison year-round — but not before a public process takes place.

In the meantime, bison will be managed under the current plan. That means sometime this spring, the animals congregated on the peninsula that juts into Hebgen Lake will be hazed back into the park.

Officials are still making plans to initiate the public process, which will likely include an environmental assessment, public meetings and an invitation to submit comments, according to Christian Mackay, executive officer of the Department of Livestock.

How would Horse Butte residents feel about the animals permanently occupying their land?

Ed Millspaugh said he moved to the peninsula so he could see the bison, and he is absolutely in favor of the animals being there year-round.

“They’re on my yard now, there’s about 30 of them,” he said Wednesday. “It’s neat to see the firstborn babies born right out here.”

He said many people who live on Horse Butte are in favor of bison being there, and have signs in their windows that say “Bison safe zone.”

Historically, bison have wintered on the land but are hazed away from it each spring as ranchers bring cattle to summer grazing pastures in the area. The animals aren’t allowed to co-exist because of a fear that bison may spread brucellosis to livestock.

Brucellosis is spread when an infected animal gives birth and another animal comes in contact with its birthing fluid.

A helicopter, horseback riders and ATVs are typically used to herd the bison back into the park.

Mackay said this year’s hazing may take place in late May or early June, but it depends on weather and other conditions in the area.

“We’ll look at it week by week,” he said.

Ariel Overstreet, spokeswoman for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the organization is interested to see whether bison stay on Horse Butte or wander farther.

She noted that the stockgrowers association participates in the Citizens Working Group, which recommended bison stay on Horse Butte year-round. Still, Overstreet said she wants to make sure ranchers in the area and their cattle are protected.

She said she knows there are at least two ranchers in that area.

“We just want to wait and see what all happens,” she said. “It’s hard to predict the future, so we’ll see how things go, and evaluate it from there.”

Ann Stovall, another Horse Butte resident, said she supports bison being on the peninsula year-round.

“For every calf born out here, that’s one less that might have been born on somebody’s pasture,” she said.

Stovall added that the bison don’t cause problems when they’re not being harassed or chased, and if she wants them to move, she just claps her hands at them and they oblige.

Carly Flandro may be reached at 582-2638 or cflandro@dailychronicle.com.

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