A new agreement by The Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) will allow hundreds of bison to roam free across 75,000 acres in a “Bison Conservation Area” in southern Montana’s Gardiner Basin, just north of Yellowstone Park. Supporters of the potential plan–which is likely to be signed in by the end of the week–say it would help Montana manage the animals, which often leave Yellowstone Park to winter on lower feeding grounds. Under this new agreement, bison hunting will be increased on the land outside the Park, and animals that migrate north into Paradise Valley will still be shot.

Over the past 20 years, 3,800 bison were slaughtered after leaving Yellowstone. Their presence outside the Park theoretically endangered livestock with brucellosis, a disease also carried by elk and cattle that causes pregnant females to abort their young.

This winter, 600+ bison were captured just outside the Park. 40 percent of them tested positive for brucellosis. Those animals are still being held in pens, and officials say they are not sure whether those animals will be shipped to slaughter. Governor Schwietzer’s 90-day ban on shipments/slaughter will be up May 15.

The IBMP coordinated this “adaptive plan,” which “anticipates future adjustments based upon the best available science, research, monitoring, new information, and experience from field operations.” The IBMP partners include the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Montana Department of Livestock, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, and the Nez Perce Tribe. This cooperative, multi-agency effort guides bison and brucellosis risk management in and around Yellowstone National Park.

“In our ongoing discussions with our IBMP parterns, the National Park Service has continued to advocate for increased tolerance for bison outside the Park boundaries,” said Yellowstone Park Chief of Public Affairs, Al Nash. “This pending change certainly is a significant change in tolerance for bison outside the Park.”

Forest Service spokeswoman Marna Daley said the Forest Service has advocated additional tolerance for bison for many years while maintaining Montana’s brucellosis free status. “This is a step in that direction. From that perspective, this is a big step.”

In addition, Several IBMP partners are looking at infrastructure in Yankee Jim Canyon, which separates Gardiner Basin from Paradise Valley. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has asked the Forest Service for a applied for a special use permit to install a cattle guard and new fencing to “limit bison distribution through that area, and prevent them from entering areas with cattle on private land like Tom Miner Basin and Paradise Valley,” said Daley. The Forest Service will review of the proposal’s environmental affects to determine how to move forward with the infrastructure as quickly as possible, she added.

The IBMP partners will host an open house from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 14 at the Yellowstone Association Building in Gardiner (308 Park Street, formerly the Cecil’s Building), to provide an overview of adaptive management changes recently made to the IBMP in the Gardiner area and answer questions about those changes. For more information about the Interagency Bison Management Plan, visit ibmp.info