American Bison: A Weighty Issue

The landscape of the West, and home to the American Bison.
The landscape of the West, and home to the American Bison.Outdoor Life Online Editor

The long-standing symbol of the Great Plains and America's untamed wilderness the American Bison (think Dances with Wolves and Kevin Costner) has now become the poster-animal for the negative effects of human interference in delicate ecosystems. But thanks to protection efforts, the bison population has rebounded and the massive mammals, also known as buffalo, will be legally hunted again.

Last week, Montana's Wildlife Commission voted to issue 25 permits for a bison hunt that is tentatively scheduled to be held from January 15, 2005 through February 15, 2005. The new plan will allow the hunting of bison that enter Montana from Yellowstone National Park on their search for winter forage. The hunt will be the first in over a decade, but the political backlash that forced the cancellation of a similar plan in 1991 has not disappeared.

Tensions are running high as advocates of the hunt say protected Yellowstone bison that enter Montana carry the disease brucellosis, (which can cause livestock to abort) and could infect herds of cattle. The opposition calls for postponement of the hunt, at least for a year. And others are just plain fed up. Commissioner John Brenden of Scobey told the _Star Tribune _"this isn't going to make a dent on an elephant's posterior to managing the buffalo problem."

Unlike previous plans, the plan for this year does not require a hunter to be accompanied by a game warden. Final voting on the plan for next year's hunt is scheduled for December.