JACKSON — Wyoming may expand bison hunting because the state’s population is above management goals.
The Wyoming Legislature might consider a bill to increase the number of cows that can be taken by hunters.
A proposal by Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, would end the once-in-a-lifetime rule for harvesting cows and replace it with a once-every-five-year rule. His draft legislation also proposes lowering the cost of a cow bison license for nonresidents from $2,500 to $1,000.
“Only six nonresidents hunted a cow bison last year,” Gingery said in a statement. He said he has met with National Elk Refuge managers and with officials from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to discuss the changes.
Regulated bison hunting in Jackson didn’t start until 2007 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service completed a Bison and Elk Management Plan. The plan required the agencies to decrease the population of the herd from the 1,200 bison counted then to about 500.
Five years in, wildlife managers have made decent progress. An aerial survey last winter counted 910 bison. The decline is too slow, Gingery said.
“When I was growing up, there was 50 (bison in the Jackson herd), and they’ve grown exponentially,” he said. “We need to get that back down to a manageable herd.”
Hunters should be enlisted to help, Gingery said.
“At the current harvest levels, we’re not going to get there for a very long time. We need to find ways to encourage nonresidents to try their hand at a hunt,” he told the newspaper.
Presently, resident bison tags cost $400 and nonresident tags cost $2,500, regardless of the gender of the bison. Under Gingery’s proposal, the resident fee for either-sex tags remains at $400 and the nonresident bull tag remains at $2,500, but nonresident cow licenses would drop to $1,000.
Gingery also advocates changing the bison lottery rules. In the current system, hunters can draw the right to buy a bison tag while paying only a small application fee.
“Some people win the drawing and then don’t follow through — 65 to 70 percent who get a cow license,” Gingery said. “If we had their money up front, they would be more apt to follow through with their hunt.”
Game and Fish issued 410 bison permits this year. Of those, 300 licenses are for cows or calves, and another 110 are either-sex tags that allow hunters to take bulls.
Thirty-four bison, including eight bulls, 25 cows and one calf, were reported killed in the first 48 hours after the season opened Aug. 15.