Thousands apply for 24 bison licenses

Posted: Friday, October 07, 2005

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 Monday.

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.

Spokesmen for the bison-advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign have said they planned to document the hunt. A telephone message for the group was not immediately returned Monday.

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.

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