Wyoming Expands Bison Hunt to Elk Refuge
National Elk Refuge Manager Steve Kallin announced Thursday that hunting of the Jackson Bison Herd will be expanded to include the refuge beginning Sept. 15, 2007. The bison hunt will be co-managed with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who will issue the licenses from their Jackson Regional Office.
A Record of Decision on the Jackson Bison and Elk Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, signed on April 26, 2007, allows for hunting on the refuge as a management tool to reduce bison numbers. Additionally, expanding the hunt to include refuge lands will improve bison distribution, reduce potential disease transmission, minimize damage to essential wildlife habitat and reduce human conflicts.
When bison began wintering on the refuge in 1975, the herd had only 18 animals. Bison began eating supplemental feed provided for elk in 1980 and have continued to do so every year. The discovery of supplemental feed by bison on the refuge has resulted in a decline in bison winter mortality and an increase in the population's growth rate. The bison population has continued to grow at a rapid rate since 1990, increasing annually by approximately 15 percent. The size of the herd is now estimated at approximately 1,200 bison.
The growing number of animals on the refuge is a concern to wildlife managers because of the increased risk of disease transmission, competition with elk and other wildlife, habitat and property damage, public safety, erosion and overgrazing. "The spread of disease and habitat damage are key issues for the refuge," Kallin noted.
Bison have been a factor in determining the onset and duration of supplemental feeding of elk each year because of their consumption of standing forage. The loss of forage results in an earlier feeding season, concentrating elk for a longer period of time.
"The longer we have elk on supplemental feed, the greater the costs and impacts to wildlife and their habitat," Kallin explained.
Though public bison hunting on the refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest was identified in the selected alternative on the Jackson Bison Herd Long-term and Management Plan and Environmental Assessment completed in 1996, an injunction prevented the implementation of a bison hunt until additional analysis was completed. The Game and Fish reinitiated bison hunting in 1998 outside the refuge and Grand Teton National Park, but few bison have been harvested because the animals are mostly distributed within park and refuge lands. The stipulation of dismissal from federal court on Aug. 27, 2007, allowed interagency managers to continue with plans to expand area bison hunting to include the refuge.
"Hunting on the refuge is the only way we will ever come close to getting numbers down to the population objective," said Doug Brimeyer, Game and Fish wildlife biologist in Jackson.
Managers will use an adaptive management strategy to reduce the herd size, basing decisions on bison behavior and hunter success. "We want to maintain a safe and ethical hunt while achieving enough harvest to start bringing the population down to desired levels," Brimeyer added.
Hunters eligible to hunt for bison applied in January 2007 and were placed on a priority list through a random drawing. All applicants eligible for a license this fall will be notified by the Game and Fish by conventional mail.
For questions about the licensing process, call the Game and Fish Jackson Office at (307) 733.2321. (contact: Steve Kallin (307) 733-9212 or Mark Gocke (307) 733-2321)