By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press Writer
Fri Feb 3, 2:50 AM ET
BILLINGS, Mont. - Members of the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho plan to hold a bison hunt in Gallatin National Forest this week, as a three-month limited and controversial hunt in Montana winds down.
Nez Perce youth will kill up to five bison during a ceremonial hunt, which was set to begin Friday and run through Sunday, said Adam Villavicencio, chief of conservation enforcement for the tribe.
An 1855 treaty between the United States and the Nez Perce allows tribal members to hunt bison on public land near Yellowstone National Park.
"We trust that you can understand the significance of maintaining the Nez Perce Tribe's culture and our way of life," Rebecca A. Miles, chair of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, told Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer in a letter dated Jan. 25.
To thin the bison population, Montana in November opened its first hunt in 15 years of bison that leave Yellowstone. Previous hunts drew protests in part because of how they were conducted, with some animals shot at close range.
Initially, 50 hunting licenses were made available for the hunt, including 16 set aside for American Indian tribes in Montana. At least one, the Crow, rejected theirs, citing their own burgeoning bison herd.
The Nez Perce do not need state licenses and do not have to take a training course required of other hunters before taking to the field, said Ron Aasheim, an administrator for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. But they will have to follow tribal regulations, he said.
Attorney General Mike McGrath said the state was not granting the Nez Perce special rights but was instead "pre-empted by superior federal law from interfering with the rights certain tribes have from their treaties with the United States."
Villavicencio said hunting bison is a way for the tribe to get back to traditions that he believes have been eroded over time.
"We're trying to gain that back and instruct and teach our youth," he said. "Our children are everything, and it's important that tradition continues and does not die."