BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana legislative committee that wants to limit Yellowstone National Park’s growing herds of bison from leaving the park sent a recommendation Thursday to park officials for American Indian tribes to be allowed to hunt bison inside the park.
The committee’s letter to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk came a day after members voted 9-7 in favor of the plan — even though there are no requests by the tribes to hunt inside the park.
Tribal representatives said Thursday they already have enough opportunities to hunt the animals outside the park.
“The idea of gunning down animals in the Lamar Valley or near Old Faithful is nothing the tribes have proposed or are considering,” said John Harrison, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Supporters of tribal bison hunts inside the park including Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton pitched the idea as a potential solution to the dilemma posed by bison leaving Yellowstone and getting onto private property.
Democrats objected, pointing out that no tribes have asked to hunt inside the park.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said longstanding policy prohibits hunting in national parks unless specifically authorized by Congress.
Any tribes wanting to assert treaty rights to hunt in Yellowstone would have to submit the request to the U.S. Justice Department for consideration, she said.
Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association said state officials had missed an opportunity to push for expanded habitat for bison outside the park. Under a program in place since 2000, thousands of the animals have been captured and sent to slaughter after they enter Montana.
Several tribes with longstanding treaty rights hold annual bison hunts just outside Yellowstone’s boundary.
Those hunts have stirred controversy — with bison often shot immediately after stepping beyond the park boundary — while failing to reduce the size of Yellowstone’s herds. Yellowstone at last count had roughly 5,000 bison, a near-record level for the modern era.
Many Yellowstone bison carry a disease, brucellosis, that can be harmful to livestock and cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort their young. However, no bison-to-cattle transmissions of the disease brucellosis have been recorded.
Yellowstone rejected requests from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to allow public hunting inside the park when the Democrat was still in office.