Humans hunted bison in Yellowstone National Park long before it was ever a park, says Jim Posewitz, founder of the Helena-based Orion-The Hunter’s Institute and author of Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethics and Tradition of Hunting. And while the national parks played an integral role in preserving species nearly wiped out more than a century ago, he says it’s time to reconsider recreational hunting as a wildlife management tool inside some of those long-protected boundaries.
“We’ve had an imbalance inside the parks…” says Posewitz. “There were always human hunters in those ecosystems. Particularly in places like Yellowstone.”
And so Posewitz was neither shocked nor bothered by Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s suggestion to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands last week that Yellowstone officials establish a zone for hunting bison within the park’s boundaries.
“We ought to be able to hunt them on the other side of the line,” Schweitzer told the committee.
The governor says his primary focus is to create an extended buffer zone outside the park where bison are allowed to migrate without being hazed back into the park or sent off to slaughter. But he says opening a portion of the park to a fair chase hunt shouldn’t be ruled out as a piece of the complex bison management puzzle.
“There may be some give and take on lands that are just across this imaginary line,” Schweitzer says. “It may well be that in addition to Montana having a buffer zone on our side, the park have some kind of a buffer zone on their side.”
The idea of hunting bison in the park is roundly dismissed by environmental groups, who say it can’t be taken seriously, especially if bison don’t have access to their historical migratory range in Montana.
But Posewitz maintains Yellowstone managers have done a good job of reestablishing natural conditions inside the park, and they’ve only left out one important element: human hunters.
“To be ideologically locked into the concept that parks must forever remain sanctuaries free of human involvement should be challenged,” Posewitz says. “I suspect to a degree that’s what Schweitzer just did.”