Aug 14, 2012 - The Associated PressJACKSON -- With drought sapping natural forage in Grand Teton National Park, more bison are moving to the National Elk Refuge earlier this year, giving hunters more targets for this week's opening of the refuge's bison hunt.
About 700 of the animals moved from the park to the refuge between July 28 and Aug. 3, about three-quarters of the Jackson Hole herd, said refuge biologist Eric Cole.
The bison normally move off the park in mid-August but in limited numbers, Cole said.
"Like most things, there are costs and benefits," he said. "The cost is the bison are consuming forage that we are trying to conserve for the critical winter months. On the positive side, it will make the bison more vulnerable to harvest once the season opens on Wednesday."
More bison will roam the 100-year-old refuge on this year's hunting opening day than on any other opener in history, Cole estimated.
"In recent years, we've harvested as many as 20 animals on the first day, and the bison have left after that first day," Cole said. "But it's difficult to predict if that will happen again with higher numbers on the refuge."
No bison hunting is allowed in Grand Teton National Park, but an aggressive, on-again, off-again season runs from Wednesday to Jan. 6 on the refuge and on surrounding Bridger-Teton National Forest lands.
Wildlife managers allow hunting in hopes of cutting the bison herd close to its population goal of 500. From the winter of 2010-11 to the winter of 2011-12, the Jackson Hole herd decreased by about 8 percent, from 910 to 840.
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