Thousands apply for 24 Montana bison hunting licenses
Nearly 6,200 people, most of them Montana residents, have applied for the 24 licenses still available for Montana's first bison hunt in 15 years...
The Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. — Nearly 6,200 people, most of them Montana residents, have applied for the 24 licenses still available for Montana's first bison hunt in 15 years, state wildlife officials said today.
Tom Palmer, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, believes the level of interest has to do with the hunt's design.
"It's a real hunt. I think hunters recognize that and are interested in participating," he said. As of early afternoon, there were 6,177 applications, he said. Of those, 5,992 were Montana residents.
Last month, wildlife commissioners approved a three-month hunt of bison that leave Yellowstone National Park and enter southern Montana. Friday marked the deadline to apply for a license. Palmer said a drawing would be held next week.
The hunt will be broken into two periods — Nov. 15-Jan. 15 and Jan. 16-Feb. 15. During the entire hunt, as many as 50 bison could be killed. Hunters would be allowed to take a total of 25 bison during each period.
Of the 50 total licenses, just 24 remained available to general applicants. Ten were allocated for a hunt that was canceled early this year after concerns about its potential effect on Montana's image, and 16 were set aside for American Indian tribes in Montana.
Hunters who get a license must undergo training for such things as killing a bison and possibly encountering protesters and reporters. Palmer said he wasn't sure when that training would be held.
Bison hunting hasn't been allowed since 1991. The state Legislature halted the practice following protests, including a tourism boycott. Wildlife officials have said the upcoming hunt will bear no resemblance to past hunts, when wardens led hunters to their sometimes peacefully grazing prey. That hunt was criticized even by some hunters as akin to shooting cattle.
Josh Osher, of the bison-advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign, said there are problems with this hunt, too. For example, he said, there are no set population targets for bison outside of Yellowstone and that the lands on which bison might be found are limited. His group was reviewing its legal options.
Yellowstone currently has its highest documented bison population — an estimated 4,900 animals. Bison commonly leave the park, particularly in the winter, to look for forage.
But their wandering worries Montana ranchers, because some bison have brucellosis. The disease can cause cows to abort, and livestock officials contend the bison could give it to cattle. Bison advocates counter that there's never been a documented case of transmission between bison and cattle in the wild.
Craig Sharpe, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, regards the hunt as a first step in having bison treated like wildlife, instead of as livestock or a disease threat.
Sharpe said he thought more people would have applied but believes the relatively short amount of time between the wildlife commission's decision to hold the hunt and the application deadline played a part. It was about three weeks.
The abbreviated hunt, canceled earlier this year, drew close to 8,400 applicants.
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