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Bison Management Plan

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is in the process of writing a new Yellowstone Bison Management Plan that will guide how Yellowstone bison are managed for the foreseeable future. On August 10th, 2023 YNP released a new Draft Bison Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public comment, initiating a 60-day public comment period, which closed on Oct. 10th, 2023.

Issues on bison management both inside and outside of Yellowstone National Park impact many different stakeholders and citizens in Park County, Montana. We encourage tourism-impacted business owners to share their opinions with both federal and state governments and ask them to engage with us in meaningful local dialog, rather than to act without our input. Wildlife management will always be an issue in our tourism-dominated economy, and we simply ask our State Government to invite our tourism businesses to the table.

Your voice as a local business owner matters and could help shift the state’s position on bison to be more balanced. Montana’s Governor Gianforte rejected all three Yellowstone National Park alternatives for the bison management plan, and instead proposed that the Park cut its iconic bison herd in half. While some of the points made in the Governor’s letter (see here) are worthy of ongoing debate, the population objective of 3,000 is not. We greatly appreciate the Governor's support of our local economy during the flood and the closure of Yellowstone National Park. During that event, there was direct engagement with local business owners by the Governor's office and the Department of Commerce. And Yellowstone National Park accomplished a monumental effort of reopening Yellowstone in short order. And yet when it comes to the impact of bison on our local economy, FWP Director Dustin Temple who signed on to the Governor's letter and who is chartered with managing wildlife in the public trust, did not engage our local community for input. Furthermore, the Department of Livestock also signed the Governor's letter ignored our very own local ranching stakeholder group (Paradise Valley Working Lands Group) who opted for alternative #1 of YNP's bison management plan. Who is listening to the local community?

 

Instead, officials in Helena, without local community discussion, rejected all three of Yellowstone National Park’s alternatives:

 

Alternative 1 (No Action): The NPS would continue management of bison pursuant to the existing Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), approved in 2000. This would maintain a population range of 3,500 to 5,000 bison (after calving), and rely on slaughter, hunting, and the Bison Conservation Transfer Program (BCTP) to manage bison numbers within this range.

 

Alternative 2: Bison would be managed within a population range of about 3,500 to 6,000 animals (after calving) with an emphasis on using the BCTP to restore bison to Tribal lands and Tribal treaty hunting outside the park to regulate numbers. Under this alternative, YNP would attempt to reduce the number of bison sent to slaughter.

 

Alternative 3: The NPS would stop all slaughter immediately and instead rely on natural selection, bison dispersal, public and Tribal harvests in Montana, and the BCTP, as the primary tools to regulate numbers, which would likely range from 3,500 to 7,000 or more animals after calving. If the population nears or exceeds 7,000 animals or if bison are unable to be contained within existing tolerance areas the Park will resume slaughter operations.

 

Bison bring visitors to our region by the millions. Last year, visitors spent $500+ million here locally. Those dollars directly support family-owned small businesses across Park County, Montana. Some of the bed tax, which many of our businesses collect and pay to the State, goes to FWP. Much of it goes to all Montanans via the general fund. Our livelihoods help fund the state. The neighborly thing to do would be for state officials to engage with our local job-creating, tax-paying stakeholders before taking a position like they did. After all, we’re the ones most impacted by their decision. In the meantime, we as local community members will continue to support our ranchers and the open spaces they create for wildlife, and encourage the federal government to focus on some common-sense efforts such funding brucellosis vaccine research (among others). This is not an "us" versus "them" issue as it is being presented.

 

The following survey results showcase that Montanans from all political parties and stakeholder groups want bison managed as wildlife.

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Please join us in asking the Governor and Director Temple to reconsider their position on Yellowstone bison and support Yellowstone National Park in continuing the process to write a contemporary bison management plan that reflects much progress made in the last two decades. If you and your business would like to sign this letter please email wildlivelihoods@gmail.com by December 1.

 

Most importantly, wherever you stand on this issue, we welcome input and expertise from various business owners and community individuals tied to our local tourism economy. Talk with one another, debate the issues, email us with your thoughts (wildlivelihoods@gmail.com), and seriously consider emailing any of the below government officials who serve on your behalf.

 

Governor Greg Gianforte: governor@mt.gov

Director of FWP Dustin Temple: dtemple@mt.gov

Director of Commerce (which represents the tourism industry): scott.osterman@mt.gov

Economic Risk of Poor Wildlife Management

As visitors to southwestern Montana start to voice their opinion regarding how Montana wants to manage wildlife (including carnivores), they are making it clear as to if they want to spend their money here. ​Here are a few economic highlights with respect to recreational tourism in our area (for more data, see here) and the impact that wild places have on it.

  • One and only year-round driving entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

  • 22% of all labor income fueled by travel, tourism and recreation.

  • Park County alone generates roughly $500,000,000 in tourism revenue annually. To put that in perspective, all of Park County's annual agricultural revenue runs at about $34,000,000 ($24m in livestock and $10m in crops). Based on the 2021 estimated predation losses (of all kinds), less than .075 percent of that revenue was lost to predation.

  • Lodging/accommodation wages and revenue are the largest economic category in our region. Lodging tax revenue for Park County, driven in large part to Yellowstone National Park visitation, in 2021 generated almost $3,400,000 for Montana's general fund, various heritage programs and recreational use programs, including FWP. 

  • Small business proprietors (or self-employment) represents a significant portion of all employment in Park County, accounting for 39% of all jobs in 2014.  This has grown over the last decade from about one-third of all jobs before 2000 and this growth has been entirely among non-farm proprietors.  Statewide in Montana proprietors accounted for 27% of all jobs in 2014, up only slightly from 26% in 2000. 

  • A 2017 survey of non-resident tourists visiting Montana shows the time spent on various activities ranked as:

    • 56% Scenic driving

    • 36% Day hiking

    • 34% Wildlife watching

    • 29% Nature photography

    • 26% Camping

    • 24% Recreational shopping

    • 19% Visiting other historical sites

    • 17% Visiting local brewery

    • 12% Visiting museums

    • 12% Visiting Lewis & Clark sites

    • 9% Fishing / Fly Fishing

  • As the rate of tourism goes up or down, which business/retail categories categories are impacted the most (ranked in descending order according to the State Department of Commerce expenditure categories):

    • Gasoline Outlets (e.g. Town Pump)

    • Restaurant & Bars

    • Hotel & Motel

    • Outfitter & Guides

    • Retail Sales

    • Grocery Stores

    • Auto Rentals

    • Rental Lodging

    • Campground & RV Parks

    • Vehicle Repairs

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