On November 15, a bison-hunting season opened in Montana for the first time in 15 years. Two months prior, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission approved the issuing of 50 licenses for the much-disputed hunt, which lasts 90 days. Each year, hundreds of bison leave snowy Yellowstone National Park in search of food, and until this point, state and national officials were solely responsible for controlling or killing them under the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

Of the 50 licenses up for grabs, 16 were allocated for American Indian tribes in Montana and ten were issued to hunters selected for a postponed bison hunt from last winter. 6,177 potential hunters (5,992 from Montana) applied for the remaining 24 spots.

Officials cite concern that the bison may infect local cattle with brucellosis, a disease which causes cattle to abort their young. Such a transmission has been assumed possible, but has never been documented between wild bison and domestic cattle. The New York Times reports that the bison’s roaming ground outside of Yellowstone would only put 500 cattle at risk.

In 1990, the Montana Legislature cancelled the state’s last bison hunt due to protests and boycotts. Much of that controversy surrounded the egregious manner in which the hunt played out: more often than not, game wardens led hunters to peacefully grazing bison, unaware of the potential danger. This year, the 50 hunters will undergo an orientation session designed to encourage “fair chase” rather than one-sided target practice. This promise, however, does not quell the fears of the Buffalo Field Campaign, an organization dedicated to preserving a vestige of the herds that once dominated the American West. They are committed to recording the hunt through videos and photographs, and have already scheduled tours of the hunting grounds with the national media.