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Limited bison hunting proposed near Yellowstone
By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press | June 10, 2004

BILLINGS, Mont. -- State wildlife officials are recommending allowing a limited hunt of bison that leave Yellowstone National Park in search of winter forage.

Ranchers and livestock industry officials worry that wandering bison could transmit disease to cattle.

Allowing hunters to shoot as many as 25 bison each winter was the preferred alternative in an environmental assessment released Monday by Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

The hunting season would run from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15 in areas where bison from Yellowstone are now captured or killed by government officials or coaxed back into the park to keep them from roaming, said Kurt Alt, a regional wildlife manager with the agency.

The state assessment gave four alternatives, ranging from no change from current practices to a more liberal hunt in which as many as 225 bison could be killed. A final decision could be made this summer, Alt said, with a hunt possible at the end of this year.

Alt said any hunt would be in addition to an existing state-federal management plan.

Under that joint bison management plan, bison that cannot be coaxed back into the park are captured and tested for brucellosis, which causes cows to abort their pregnancies and can cause an untreatable flulike illness in humans.

Animals testing positive are sent to slaughter. If the park's population exceeds 3,000 animals by late winter and early spring each year, bison that stray into Montana can be killed without being tested first. More than 4,200 bison now live in the park, which officials say is the highest number in nearly a decade.

Bison from the park have been hunted before in Montana; in the winter of 1988-89, hunters killed 569 bison on the park's northern boundary. But the Legislature ended the hunt after a storm of protests about shooting Yellowstone wildlife.

The hunt was criticized as less than sporting. Game wardens led each hunter directly to the animal to be killed. The hunters shot at close range at animals that often were standing still, grazing.

Last year, the state Legislature passed a measure giving wildlife officials the authority to establish a bison hunt. The environmental assessment is one piece in determining whether a hunt is feasible and desirable.

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