The New Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP)

Copyright: Donna Watson Lawson

Copyright: Donna Watson Lawson

Over the next few years, we have an opportunity to vastly improve conditions for Yellowstone’s bison, one that will not come around for at least another 15 years. Last spring the National Park Service and State of Montana began the process to write a new Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). We will be focusing much of our efforts towards advocating for a new IBMP that treats bison as valued wildlife, allows them to occupy significant habitat outside of the park without hazing or slaughter, creates a new science-based population objective, and focuses disease management actions on cattle instead of bison.

The new management plan should reflect a fundamental change in the way we perceive and manage the Yellowstone bison population. Below are principles that we believe should guide the new plan.

 1.     Conserve Greater Yellowstone bison and manage them as wildlife. The new plan should aim to conserve Greater Yellowstone bison, and focus on Montana’s responsibility to manage bison as “wildlife” outside of YNP, including the elimination of the controversial ship-to-slaughter and hazing programs as the primary means to manage bison.

2.     Expand habitat with year-round access for bison in Montana. The new plan must provide for significant expanded year-round access to habitat (beyond what the Governor allocated in his recent habitat decision) for bison outside of YNP that allows for increased fair-chase tribal and public hunting of bison in Montana as the primary means to manage the population. Social tolerance, experience, real risks, and updated science – not fixed arbitrary boundaries – should determine where bison go.

3.     Develop appropriate population ranges for Yellowstone bison that are scientifically based. Appropriate thresholds for the entire population or subpopulations of the Yellowstone herd and corresponding management actions should be based upon the best available science, allowed to vary depending on changing environmental and climatic conditions, and should be based on social and biological carrying capacittiy of available habitat.

4.     Manage the risk of Brucellosis transmission to livestock: The new plan should focus on managing the risk of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to domestic livestock, not on disease suppression in wildlife. Managing this risk should be driven by real conflicts as they arise, with livestock that are on the landscape in Montana and disease management actions should be focused on cattle rather than bison.  

5.     Manage in response to large episodic migrations, not arbitrary population targets. Large episodic migrations of bison – specifically, the potential conflicts and opportunities they create – should drive management response, not arbitrary temporal or numeric criteria. Shipping bison to slaughter presents undesirable social, economic and ecological costs. The following tools are alternative ways to manage these migrations over shipping bison to slaughter:

  • Allow bison in areas identified as being available for bison use, especially public lands, including habitats not currently being fully utilized (for example, the Upper Gallatin);
  • Tribal and public hunting in Montana; and
  • Translocation of bison to areas within and outside (using an appropriate quarantine process) the GYE should be considered.

6.     Use the best available science: The new plan should be rooted in, and constantly updated with, the best available science and data as well as our new experiences and lessons learned managing bison.

7.     Provide for adaptive management:  The new plan should provide for a clear process of adaptive management and decision-making based on changes in social tolerance, land uses, regulatory changes, new science, habitat changes, etc.

 The Park Service and State of Montana hope to release a draft EIS for a new IBMP by Fall of 2016, and Final EIS and Record of Decision by Fall 2017.