So far in 2013 hunters have killed more wild bison migrating from Yellowstone National Park than any year since 1989. Participation by American Indians, who harvest the animals under long-standing treaty rights, helped to drive the numbers skyward.
"It's been a pretty successful year," McCoy Oatman, member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, told the Wall Street Journal. He estimates that his tribe harvested nearly 60 bison this season. "It's been very beneficial to tribal members to go over there and fill their freezers."
American Indians travel hundreds of miles to participate in the hunt. Those who are a part of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, including Oatman’s Nez Perce tribe, drove roughly 10 hours and 700 miles.
The hunt is a way to curb rising bison numbers in the area, thereby acting as a method for disease control. In the past, government agencies that oversee animal management used other methods, namely capturing the animals for slaughter and relocating bison back within Yellowstone’s park boundaries.
This year, roughly 250 bison were killed, up significantly from 2011 when hunters took only 29 animals. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimate that American Indians killed 212 of those animals. State-licensed hunters took 37.
The 2013 number is still far short of the amount of animals killed in 1989, when hunters took a record 489 bison.
"Our goal was to as much as possible manage the population level through hunting as opposed to other means," Pat Flowers, the Yellowstone region supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told ABC News. "If we can have a more consistent removal out of the park, we can get the population back down near the target of 3,000 to 3,500 bison."
The National Park Service estimates that there are currently close to 3,990 bison in the herd.