Yellowstone bison will be able to leave the confines of the nation’s first national park for grazing land in Montana after a decision by Gov. Steve Bullock last Tuesday.
Federal officials and Native American tribes that help with managing the bison herds still have to sign off on things, but the bison will be allowed to live on 400 square miles of land in Montana north and west of Yellowstone’s borders year-round.
“It’s a historic step forward for bison,” Stephanie Adams of the National Park Association told reporters.
But the issue of bison living and grazing in these areas has been a controversial topic for years. While some are happy to see an expansion, Montana ranchers are concerned about bison bringing in the disease brucellosis, which affects half of all Yellowstone bison.
Although there hasn’t been a documented case of bison spreading the disease to domestic cattle, the concerns are still there for ranchers. Some are also worried that the Yellowstone bison population will grow out of control if they have more space to roam.
“We don’t know that (state agencies) have adequate resources to make sure bison remain within these zones,” said Jay Bodner of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. He believes the decision will lead to future increases in zones where the animals are allowed.
When it comes to population control, Bullock is planning to put pressure on Yellowstone to reduce the herd of 5,000 bison. For now, the movement will allow 600 bison in an area near the Idaho border within the Gallatin National Forest. However, they will only be allowed there during the spring; in the summer, the number will be limited to 250.
“It doesn’t just open it up completely to unlimited numbers of bison,” said Sam Sheppard of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
It’s probably safe to say this will likely continue to be a hot topic in areas of Wyoming and Montana for the foreseeable future.