Native American Tribe May Seek Right To Hunt Bison In Yellowstone

Hunting bison in currently banned within Yellowstone Park, but some tribal leaders among the Nez Perce tribe are looking to reassert their right to hunt on what was once part of their traditional hunting grounds.

According to a report in Reuters, the Nez Perce, who are a tribe based out of Idaho, and three other tribes in recent years have used historic treaties and hunting rights tied to them to currently be able to legally hunt bison that follow ancient migration routes outside the park and in Montana. Although they have yet to formally request hunting rights within the park, many Nez Perce leaders feel they should be able to hunt within park boundaries.

“Before there was a park, there was a tribe,” Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman said. “Some of our members already feel we have the right to hunt in the park, but it hasn’t been exercised because we feel it would be remiss in going forward that way.”

A federal law enacted in 1894 currently forbids the hunting or killing of animals within Yellowstone, unless they are threatening injury or death to humans. Bison kills violating the law are infrequent, although the most recent report of illegal hunting was just last month when three bison were reported found dead on a roadside in the northern part of the park.

“Poaching of bison inside the park is significant any time it happens. It’s the reason the military was sent to manage bison initially. The protection of bison goes back to the park’s origins,” said Tim Reid, Yellowstone Chief Ranger.

Whitman points out that the tribe will not violate park regulations but may bring the issue up with the Department of the Interior, or perhaps lobby Congress for changes.

Marty Zaluski, Montana state veterinarian and member of a federal, state and tribal team that oversees bison in and around Yellowstone, thinks that allowing the hunting of bison within the park would lessen difficulties in managing the 4,600 strong herd and assist in bringing it down closer to a 3,000 to 3,5000 population target.

“What I’m saying here is we have the potential to move this intractable issue forward. Hunting needs to be looked at more seriously as a possible solution,” Zaluski said, in another report from Reuters earlier this year.

Animal rights advocates naturally oppose any prospect of hunting within the park, as well as a culling program already in place. The culling program, which allows hundreds of bison to be hunted or shipped to slaughter annually, is aimed at reducing the spread of brucellosis, a cattle disease that can cause animals to miscarry. Montana is currently brucellosis-free.

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said that the park wasn’t adverse to hunting, but that “The status and subject of hunting in Yellowstone ties back to its beginnings and its founding principles”. David Hallac, chief of Yellow Center for Resources, says:

“Even a proposal to hunt in the park causes more problems than the dilemma it intends to solve. These are America’s wildlife and a crucial part of our national heritage. To propose to hunt in a place established specifically to prevent animals from being hunted is bizarre.”

The Yellowstone bison made headlines earlier this week when many felt that a video of them running was actually an early warning sign of an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Jed Whedon, producer of televison’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., went so far as to jokingly blame the shows low ratings on the fleeing bison.