Native American tribe may seek to hunt bison inside Yellowstone

Thu Apr 3, 2014 7:08am EDT
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By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - The Nez Perce tribe once hunted bison in what is now Yellowstone National Park, and some tribal leaders want to revive the practice, which ended with Western settlement and the near total extermination of the once-vast U.S. bison herds.

Today, remnants of the bison, or buffalo, herds still roam the grasslands and river valleys of Yellowstone, a huge park that covers parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The park lands, in which hunting is illegal, once made up a key segment of the Idaho tribe's traditional hunting grounds, and some Nez Perce leaders say they should again be able to hunt buffalo inside the park.

"Before there was a park, there was a tribe," Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman said. "Some of our members already feel we have the right to hunt in the park, but it hasn't been exercised because we feel it would be remiss in going forward that way."

After asserting hunting rights tied to historic treaties in recent years, the Nez Perce and three other tribes already hunt those bison that follow ancient migration routes outside the park and into Montana in search of winter range.

The Nez Perce have not yet formally requested hunting rights inside the park. Such a request would require extensive federal review, major changes to Yellowstone policies, and congressional action to modify a founding law that banned hunting or killing of buffalo and other wildlife there.

The prospect of hunting any of the 4,000 buffalo within Yellowstone boundaries is strongly opposed by animal advocates, who decry an existing culling program that allows hundreds of bison to be hunted and shipped to slaughter annually.

"Yellowstone is against any proposal to hunt in the park," said David Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, the park's science and research branch.   Continued...

A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming August 10, 2011. Picture taken August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson