Yellowstone Bison Slaughter Fails Miserably, With Just 49 Killed

A plan to slaughter 600 to 900 bison in Yellowstone National Park has fallen far short of its target, with just 49 killed.

In February, officials announced they would cull hundreds of the animals in an attempt to keep the park population at a manageable level. "Bison from Yellowstone don't have enough room to roam outside the park," the NPS said at the time. "As the population grows, more bison migrate. This migration can cause conflict. Safety concerns include property damage and disease transmission to cattle. Our goal is to preserve bison while addressing these concerns."

There are around 5,500 bison in Yellowstone, divided by two herds. The large animals were hunted to near extinction across North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, however conservation efforts launched in the 20th century have caused their numbers to increase significantly.

Yellowstone bison populations are now at the the highest level they have been since 1872, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. As the animals continue to reproduce, officials undergo an annual cull to keep the population under control.

Bison herd
A stock photo shows bison in a field. Yellowstone is home to around 5,500 bison dmbaker/Getty Images

The state of Montana, which has lands in Yellowstone, is strict about preventing bison from roaming freely outside of the park because much of the population has been exposed to brucellosis—a bacterial disease which can spread to cattle and other livestock.

Park officials also have safety concerns if too many bison wander from the park. The huge animals are prone to aggression when faced with humans and have attacked more people than any other animal in Yellowstone National Park.

A Yellowstone National Park spokesperson told Newsweek that the bison operations began in the week of February 13.

"Bison capture and shipping operations begin when bison migrate from the interior of the park into the Gardiner (Montana) Basin and may continue typically through late March," the spokesperson said. "Due to the milder winter this year, a very small number of bison migrated to lower elevations outside the park. The migration is becoming less predictable each year."

According to the hunting magazine Field & Stream, data shared at an Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting on April 13 showed that only 49 bison had been removed from the park during the winter.

The Interagency Bison Management Plan was formed in 2000 as a cooperative effort to manage bison in the Yellowstone area. It is made of eight groups, which include state and federal agencies, and Tribal Nations.

Bison culls are done in three ways: The hunting of bison that roam outside of the park by Native American tribes and the wider public, the capture of bison near the park's borders to tribal people for processing, and the Bison Conservation Transfer Program, which moves healthy bison onto tribal lands.

During this year's cull, two bulls situated at the north and the west of the park were killed by state hunters, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. To the north of the park, Native American tribes killed two bulls and two cows. Five cows and one bull were hunted and 27 were slaughtered. The remaining 10 were captured and sent to quarantine.

The land in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that makes up Yellowstone National Park has links to Native Americans who lived there for hundreds of years. Bison meat and hide obtained during the culls are given to tribes that participate in the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Quarantined bison are checked over for disease before they placed on tribal lands.

This article has been updated to include comment from Yellowstone National Park.