Bison population holds steady in Yellowstone

A group of bison graze and rest near the roadside south of Madison in Yellowstone National Park.

A group of bison graze and rest near the roadside south of Madison in Yellowstone National Park.

An annual survey of summer bison numbers in Yellowstone National Park shows the overall population at roughly the same level as last year.

The estimate based on a series of aerial surveys puts the park’s total bison population about approximately 4,900, according to a statement released Wednesday by the park’s public affairs office.

The peak population estimate of 5,000 bison was recorded in the summer of 2005.

Bison management remains a complicated and politically tricky issue for the National Park Service, as hundreds of the animals can stream outside the park’s boundaries during the coldest weeks of winter, causing conflict with neighboring private landowners.

There are approximately 3,500 bison in the Northern herd and 1,400 in the Central herd this summer.  There were about 740 calves-of-the-year observed in a June aerial survey.

The annual bison survey is used as part of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, a cooperative framework designed to conserve a viable, wild bison population while minimizing the risk of transmitting disease between bison and domestic cattle.

Park managers are proposing reducing the total herd by approximately 900, according to a report this week by Matthew Brown of the Associated Press.

State and federal wildlife agencies are working toward an agreed-upon herd size of between 3,000 and 3,500 bison. Wildlife advocates are seeking to allow bison access to more lands surrounding the park, rather than culling their numbers through hunting, slaughter, research and shipment to other areas.

Brown reports that “hunters and government agencies removed 640 bison from Yellowstone’s herds last winter.”

Contact Yellowstone Gate at [email protected] or 307-213-9818.

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