HELENA, Mont. - Gov. Brian Schweitzer, fearing a "public relations nightmare" for Montana, said Wednesday he wants to cancel a hunt for bison that wander outside Yellowstone National Park.
The newly inaugurated Democrat said he hopes to find a way to postpone the season for a year — it's set to start Jan. 15 — by either ordering the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks not to issue licenses, or by filling the Fish and Game Commission with new members who would reverse the decision to approve the hunt.
Schweitzer said he is not sure he can legally do the former, or has the time to do the latter.
After meetings with state wildlife and livestock officials and a representative of the ranching industry, Schweitzer said he is convinced the planned sale of 10 bison hunting licenses will make the state look bad — and do nothing to curb the ballooning Yellowstone herd. Each license allows the holder to shoot one bison.
"My instinct is to cancel it," Schweitzer said. "How does this make sense to shoot 10 head? We're still going to suffer" the negative national publicity.
The hunt was halted in 1991 after a barrage of bad publicity. Some environmentalists have threatened more protests if a hunt takes place this year.
Jeff Hagener, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks director, doubted the outcry would be as loud this time; the new hunt will be more conventional, without warden escorts and prearranged hunting excursions, he explained. The 10 licenses will be awarded through a lottery.
Montana ranchers fear the migrating bison will transmit brucellosis, a disease that causes cows to abort.
Under a management plan now in place, officials attempt to herd bison that leave Yellowstone back to the park. Those that cannot be returned are captured; those testing positive for brucellosis are sent to slaughter.
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