Montana has approved a plan allowing hunters to kill up to 50 bison that leave Yellowstone National Park in search of winter forage.
The hunt approved Thursday by the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission would be the first of its kind in Montana in nearly 15 years. Previous hunts were halted after some of the animals, also known as buffalos, were shot at close-range, sparking protests.
The hunt will take place in two sessions this winter, beginning Nov. 15. Some licenses will be allocated to members of the state's American Indian tribes.
Yellowstone is home to thousands of bison and it's common in the winter for some to leave the deep snow of the park and enter the lower valleys of southern Montana in search of food.
Wildlife officials say the hunt will be nothing like those in the late 1980s and early '90s that garnered controversy.
During those hunts, wardens led hunters to individual bison that, in some cases, were shot at close-range while peacefully grazing. The execution-style killing dismayed even some hunters and drew protests nationally, including tourist boycotts that led the state to end the hunts in 1991.
Dan Brister of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy group, said the new hunt will still give Montana a black eye. He said his group is exploring legal options.
But ranchers and livestock officials support the hunt, saying they fear bison will transmit the disease brucellosis to Montana livestock. Brucellosis, which is found in Yellowstone bison, can cause cows to abort.
Under the plan, sportsmen must undergo training to prepare them for killing one of the animals, including using the proper equipment and shot placement. It will also cover how to handle possible encounters with protesters and reporters.