Drawing a bead on bison 

If the infamous hunts of the late 1980s and early 1990s are any indication as to how Montana’s latest experiment with a bison-hunting season will go, the state might want to get out the makeup and prepare for a whopper of a black eye.

On Sept. 8 the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission approved a plan to allow 50 hunters to kill bison as they leave Yellow-stone National Park, clearing the way for the first hunt of its kind in Montana in nearly 15 years to start Nov. 15. The state put an end to bison hunting in the early 1990s after graphic images of the hunts sparked international criticism and protests, including tourist boycotts. During those hunts, wardens led hunters into the field where some animals were shot at close range while grazing. Wildlife officials promise this year’s hunt won’t be anything like previous incarnations.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer called off a 30-day bison hunt scheduled for Jan. 15 after commissioners said they wanted to ensure a fair-chase hunt and a longer season with broader hunting opportunities. The revised hunt plan includes more than 460,000 acres of wildlife habitat near the Yellowstone border. However, opponents say the hunt is anything but “fair chase.”

“Our main problem is that [the state] establishes a hunt for a species for which the state isn’t willing to give any habitat,” says Dan Brister of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy group. “We might not be opposed to a hunt if the state was willing to provide some full-time habitat for bison.” Ranchers and livestock officials who are supportive of the hunt say they fear Yellowstone bison could spread brucellosis, a disease that causes cows to abort their calves. According to BFC, state and federal officials have slaughtered more than 930 bison under the provisions of the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

“Every winter and spring we see bison killed by the hundreds for committing the crime of entering Montana,” said Brister in a BFC press release. “Now the state wants to shift the blame to hunters.”

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