Parker Heinlein

Parker Heinlein

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Times certainly have changed.

More than three dozen bison were killed by hunters recently just outside Yellowstone National Park.

And it was no big deal.

The national media wasn’t in attendance. Neither were members of the Buffalo Field Campaign. Protesters didn’t poke hunters with ski poles, as they had in the past, nor did they chain themselves to gates in an attempt to disrupt the hunt.

There were no arrests.

There were no cries of outrage.

Maybe it was because the hunters were all Native Americans. Maybe it was because people realize something has to be done with the ever-growing herd of bison in the park. Maybe it’s simply because folks just don’t care much anymore.

While the BFC continues to lobby for land outside Yellowstone where buffalo could roam, those empty spaces around the park are rapidly filling with second homes, ranchettes, and mini-marts.

Twenty years ago during the Governor’s Conference of Tourism and Recreation in Big Sky, protesters unfurled a banner that read “Racicot’s Buffalo Slaughter Kills Tourism.” There were three arrests, and a protesting hippie girl’s cry of “Stop the hazing” was captured by a television news crew.

According to the BFC, there have been 11,596 bison killed outside the park since the inaugural hunt in 1985.

That may be what’s happened. That first bull killed in 1985 was a big deal, but 11,595 dead bison later, folks became numb to it all.

If the bison were disappearing it would be a different matter, but they’re not. With a herd of nearly 5,000 in the park this winter, the only thing disappearing is grass on the winter range.

There’s little room or tolerance for the park’s excess bison in Park County, so proponents of a free-roaming bison herd in Montana are looking at the more remote reaches of the state.

The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is often mentioned as a possibility. And while folks in the surrounding counties are adamantly opposed to the idea, they are few in number, their protests often drowned out by the voices of the pro-bison crowd from elsewhere.

Folks have been debating what to do with Yellowstone Park’s excess bison for 35 years. We seem to be no closer to a solution now than ever. Letting the tribes harvest a few is politically correct, but makes little difference in the long run.

At least no one’s complaining.

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