Afraid of the bad publicity, Montana on Monday canceled what would have been the state’s first bison hunt in more than a decade.
The Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission’s 4-1 vote came less than a week after new Gov. Brian Schweitzer expressed strong misgivings about the hunt and the potential damage to the state’s reputation. The monthlong hunt had been set to begin Saturday.
Commissioner Shane Colton said he was worried that the furor over the hunt “may actually be a quick finish to bison hunting.”
But John Brenden, the only commissioner opposed to canceling the hunt, chastised fellow members for surrendering to pressure from out-of-state critics.
At the same time, the commission endorsed plans to hold a three-month bison hunt that would start next November.
The hunting of bison that wander from Yellowstone National Park each winter was canceled in 1991 after protests and bad publicity. The revival of hunting was authorized by the 2003 Legislature to help control their number.
Many bison in the park carry the disease brucellosis, which can cause cattle to abort. Montana ranchers fear the bison will spread the disease to their herds, although there has not been a documented case of that happening.
Commissioners said that delaying the hunt until next fall would give the state time to put pressure on Yellowstone officials to cut disease among the bison and that a longer season and larger hunting area would create a fairer hunt.
Steve Pilcher, an official with the pro-hunt Montana Stockgrowers Association, said any cancellation should be accompanied by a commitment that that state will push the federal government to do something about diseased bison.
Harmon Ranney, who said he was one of more than 8,000 people who applied for the 10 bison hunting licenses, complained that the cancellation “goes against the will of the Legislature.”