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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bison to be hunted in Montana again

Becky Bohrer Associated Press

BILLINGS – Montana’s wildlife commission approved a plan Thursday that will allow hunters to kill up to 50 bison that leave Yellowstone National Park and enter Montana in search of winter forage. It will be the first such hunt in Montana in 15 years.

The state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission approved hunting over a three-month period, beginning Nov. 15. Hunters will be required to undergo training to prepare them for killing one of the animals and possible encounters with protesters and news reporters, among other things.

Two commissioners deemed the requirement offensive or unnecessary – Victor Workman of Whitefish called it “unreasonable, uncalled for and unwarranted” – but others saw it as key to ensuring the long-term viability of the controversial hunt.

“I want this hunt to be a success,” Chairman Steve Doherty said, adding that the mandatory orientation should not only increase the likelihood of that but also show respect both for the bison and the state’s hunting tradition.

Yellowstone is home to thousands of bison, and it is common in the winter for some to leave the deep snow of the park and enter the lower valleys of southern Montana in search of food. Ranchers and livestock officials say they fear bison will transmit the disease brucellosis to Montana livestock. Brucellosis, which is found in Yellowstone bison, can cause cows to abort.

Under an existing federal-state management plan, bison that leave Yellowstone can be hazed or captured and tested for brucellosis. Bison testing positive are sent to slaughter. But there is no hunting by private citizens.

Wildlife officials say the new hunt will be nothing like those of the late 1980s that sparked protests. Then, wardens led hunters to individual bison that, in some cases, were shot at close range while peacefully grazing. The execution-style killing dismayed even some hunters and drew protests nationally, including tourist boycotts, that led the state to end the hunt in 1991.

Dan Brister of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy group, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the new hunt also is sure to draw national attention, and is likely to give Montana a black eye. He said his group is exploring its legal options.

The hunt as planned would allow up to 25 bison to be killed during each of two sessions – one from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15, and a second from Jan. 16 to Feb. 15. Of the 50 total either-sex licenses, 16 will be allocated to Montana tribes and 10 will go to hunters who qualified for an earlier hunt that was canceled out of concern about the state’s image. That leaves 24 up for grabs this winter.

Hazing and capture operations under the current management plan would be suspended during the hunt, except in unusual cases such as threats to public health or significant property damage.

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