Bison shot after wandering from buffer zone

2013-04-13T00:00:00Z 2013-04-15T11:43:08Z Bison shot after wandering from buffer zoneBy BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A mature bull bison that wandered from a buffer area outside Yellowstone National Park into a no-tolerance zone north of Gardiner was shot by a state official Friday afternoon.

“He was not in an area where we could recover the carcass so it will be left for scavengers and predators in the area,” said Christian McKay, the state Board of Livestock’s executive officer. McKay said the work was an interagency operation.

The bull had wandered beyond an area where bison are free to roam when they leave Yellowstone National Park. That area was expanded by 75,000 acres last year in the Gardiner Basin, near the park’s North Entrance, a decision that was unsuccessfully challenged in court by livestock groups. Fences, a cattle guard, the Yellowstone River and the steep, rocky confines of Yankee Jim Canyon act as barriers to keep bison from leaving.

Under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, though, bison that wander outside the buffer area can be killed to protect people and property from injury and livestock from disease.

“Once they cross the line there’s no tolerance,” McKay said, partly because a bull could return to the park and bring more animals with him the next time he migrated north.

“We don’t want that memory going back into the herd,” he said.

Bison advocates argue that the rule makes no sense since elk containing the disease brucellosis – which many Yellowstone female bison also carry -- freely roam from the park. Also, bull bison are not carriers of the disease, which can cause pregnant cattle to abort.

Before the buffer zone was created, the Montana Department of Livestock would often herd bison back to the park or even corral them. In some years, bison that were captured were sent to slaughter, although that practice has not occurred the last two winters.

The roaming bull had been spotted on March 3 on the Dome Mountain Ranch by an antler hunter who snapped a photo, according to J.B. Klyap, ranch manager. The state didn’t catch wind of the bull until about two days ago. In the 15 years he’s worked on the ranch, Klyap said, he’s never seen a bison that far north and the state hasn’t had to deal with a rogue bull since the management area was expanded.

“He seemed to be by himself,” Klyap said. “He must have come up through the old historic route.”

Klyap said thousands of Yellowstone elk annually walk from the park high above the east side of the Yellowstone River’s Yankee Jim Canyon to spend the winter on the ranch and the nearby Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area, owned by the state specifically to feed wintering wildlife.

The bull was roughly three to four miles north of the buffer zone and east from Highway 89, the main route south from Livingston to Yellowstone National Park in the Paradise Valley. Klyap said the bison was first seen in “steep, rough country” at an elevation of about 6,000 feet in an area with open meadows and grassy hillsides.

Klyap said the ranch is “bison friendly,” but under state law bison can be removed from private property without the landowner’s approval.

That action wasn’t necessary since the bison had wandered from the ranch onto the state wildlife management area.

“He was a long way even from the new adaptive management area,” McKay said.

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