An investigation is under way into allegations that members of an Indian tribe from Idaho wasted game during a recent bison hunt outside Yellowstone National Park, the tribe’s chairman said.
Nez Perce chairman McCoy Oatman confirmed the tribe was investigating the claims after Montana wildlife officials reported that a bison was killed and left behind in a recent hunt.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said Tuesday that his agency turned the case over to the Lapwai, Idaho-based Nez Perce tribe in accordance with an informal agreement between the state and the tribe.
Oatman declined to detail the allegations, saying it would be inappropriate because the case is before the tribe’s judicial system.
He declined to say how many tribe members were under investigation, how many bison were killed or even the day the hunt took place.
The tribe’s bison hunt will continue as planned over the next two weekends, Oatman said.
“The investigation is ongoing and we are proceeding as normal,” he said.
Montana law prohibits hunters from wasting any part of a game animal, bird or fish that is suitable for food. But jurisdictional questions arise when dealing with tribes, which are considered sovereign nations and have treaty rights to hunt the big-game animals.
Oatman said wasting fish and game is a violation of tribal code but he declined to say what the penalties are, saying the judicial system would determine what is appropriate.
Since 2006, the Nez Perce and other tribes have been hunting bison on federal lands outside of Yellowstone where bison migrate to lower elevations in winter in the search for food. Tribal treaties with the federal government give them the right to hunt on traditional hunting grounds on land such as the Gallatin National Forest.
Cayuse Indians from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation resumed their hunts near Yellowstone this winter for the first time in 100 years.
Oatman said this year’s hunt has been successful and without incident except for the current allegations, whereas last year no hunt was held.
State and tribal officials have been at odds in the past over details of the hunt, such as the number the tribes are allowed to take. On Tuesday, neither the tribe nor FWP could say how many bison the tribe had taken this year.