For Immediate Release
Conservationists File Suit Against Federal Agencies to End Bison Slaughter
Failed Management Endangering American Icon, Wasting Millions Annually
MISSOULA, Montana - A coalition of conservation groups, Native
Americans, and Montanans are suing the National Park Service for their
role in slaughtering 3,300 wild American bison that inhabit
Yellowstone National Park. Approximately 3,000 bison remain in
Yellowstone today because of aggressive population control implemented
under the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP)
adopted nine years ago. Download Complaint
The groups assert that the Park Service is violating its statutory
mission to preserve wild bison and "leave them unimpaired for the
enjoyment of future generations."
The suit also cites the U.S. Forest Service for failing to manage the
Gallatin National Forest in a way that would allow for healthy
populations of bison, sage grouse, and related wildlife.
Both agencies have refused requests by plaintiffs and
others to reconsider the bison management plan in light of new
scientific information and changed circumstances related to bison,
including a recent independent study which concluded that the actual
risk of disease transmission from free-roaming bison to cattle in
Montana would be zero in most years, and limited to predictable
"hot spots" in others. Download Kilpatrick 2009
for plaintiff Seventh Generation Fund's Tatanka Oyate Project, says,
"The continuing slaughter of wild buffalo by the National Park
Service is an affront to indigenous peoples and an abrogation of the
government's trust responsibilities to the American people and
According to Tom Woodbury, the Montana Director for Western
Watersheds Project, the lead plaintiff in the suit, the IBMP is
broken. "One of the twin aims of the bison plan was 'to ensure
the wild and free-ranging nature of American bison'" said
Woodbury. "While the Park Service was sending over 1400
bison to slaughter in 2008, a Congressional investigation was
concluding that the agencies are no closer to ensuring free-roaming
bison today then they were in 2000," Woodbury said.
In a report released in 2008, the Government Accountability Office
determined that the IBMP agencies, "lack accountability among
themselves and to the public." Download GAO Report
Bison's distinctive grazing, wallowing and horning behavior creates
important habitat for many "species of concern" in Montana,
including the sage grouse.
According to Glenn Hockett, a range ecologist and President of the
plaintiff Gallatin Wildlife Association, "Bison play a key role
in keeping prairie grasslands healthy and are an important food source
for human hunters, grizzly bears, wolves, eagles, and many other
species. Our members value wild bison as a Montana big game
species as well as for wildlife viewing and photography."
A recent study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded
that "wildlife watching is a major force, driving billions in
spending around the country."
"These economic impacts can be the life-blood of a local
economy," according to the study, and "rural areas can
attract thousands of wildlife watchers each year, generating millions
Meghan Gill, a doctoral student at the University of Montana and long
time bison advocate, joined in the suit for her own reasons.
"The cruelty to these animals that I and others have witnessed
should not be part of a sanctioned government plan," Gill
the dead of winter, forcing them to expend the energy they need to
survive harsh conditions," Gill continued, "run them into
barbed wire, over frozen lakes where the bison drowned when the ice
broke, and worse."
Gill said she finds it particularly disturbing that "every spring
the government agents repeatedly haze calving female bison and newborn
calves miles into the park off of Horse Butte peninsula despite the
protests of local residents who have attempted to create a bison
sanctuary there by buying out all the ranches and removing all the
cows. This year they even chased a newborn calf with a broken
leg," Gill said, "but every year there are similar
Gill maintains that "the day-to-day bison management operations
are a complete waste of taxpayer dollars on an inexcusable, illogical
plan that most people would never condone if they witnessed it
Stephany Seay, a spokesperson for Buffalo Field Campaign, another
plaintiff in the suit, disputes the common but unsubstantiated claim
by the State of Montana that lethal bison management is necessary to
protect livestock from brucellosis, a minor European cattle disease.
"Brucellosis is a fraud being used by the cattle industry to
maintain control over public lands grazing," Seay said.
"This issue is not about brucellosis at all; it's a centuries-old
range war being fought over who gets to eat the grass."
The Yellowstone bison population includes America's last continuously
wild herds, and is the last population that still follows its
migratory instincts. As unique native herbivores that evolved
across the North American continent, scientists believe bison can help
restore the native grasslands, sagebrush steppes, and prairie
ecosystems that are considered to be some of the most endangered
habitats in the world.
Dr. Sara Johnson with Native Ecosystems Council, another party to the
suit, points out that sagebrush has been called "the mother of
all ecosystems." She says, "contrary to the prevailing
view of these lands as scrublands when cattle were introduced,
sagebrush habitat has more biological diversity associated with it
than any other habitat we know of." Johnson says,
"managing natural bison habitat for cattle, as the Forest Service
has been doing for too long, favors invasive weeds, degrades our
shared landscapes, and harms sensitive species like sage grouse, pygmy
rabbits, and Brewer's sparrow."
The coalition is asking the Court to prevent the U.S. Forest Service
and National Park Service from continuing to participate in, allocate
funding for, or permit the slaughter of wild bison on public lands,
including trapping for transport to slaughter houses and quarantine
facilities. The suit would not affect the state of Montana's
bison hunt, scheduled to begin November 15, 2009, nor would
it affect Native American tribes that retain treaty rights to hunt
bison on National Forest lands.
"Instead of federal persecution," Seay concluded,
"America's last wild bison population deserves federal
WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT is a regional, membership,
not-for-profit conservation organization, dedicated to protecting and
conserving the public lands and natural resources of watersheds in the
American West. WWP has its headquarters at the Greenfire
Preserve in Custer County, Idaho; and is supported by more than 1,400
members located throughout the United States, including in
Montana. WWP's Montana office is in Missoula,
and it also has offices and other staff in Boise, Hailey, and Salmon,
Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and California. Through these
staff, and with the assistance of numerous unpaid members and
supporters, WWP is deeply involved in seeking to improve livestock
grazing management on federal and state public lands, including on the
federal lands at issue in this case. WWP is also involved in
seeking to protect native wildlife and their habitat across the west,
including bison and sage grouse. http://westernwatersheds.org
BUFFALO FIELD CAMPAIGN is a non-profit public interest
organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone's
wild bison, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and
other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor
the sacredness of the wild bison. BFC has its headquarters in
West Yellowstone, Gallatin County, Montana, and is supported by
volunteers and participants around the world who value America’s
native wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend, and enjoy
the natural wonders of our National Parks and Forests. http://www.
Fund, an Indigenous nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and
maintaining the uniqueness of Native peoples throughout the Americas.
Tatanka Oyate works to protect and restore the habitat of the last
wild bison population in Yellowstone and create awareness for
protecting and preserving sacred species in the plains region, an area
of special significance to Native cultures. Tatanka Oyate was
organized specifically to find the means to protect the genetically
unique Yellowstone bison population. http://www.7genfund.org
wildlife conservation organization based in Gallatin County, Montana.
GWA represents concerned hunters and anglers in Southwest Montana and
elsewhere. GWA is an affiliate of the Montana Wildlife
Federation, which is an affiliate of the National Wildlife
Federation. GWA is supported and run by volunteers, who
advocate for adequate habitat for native wildlife, and opportunities
for the public to view, hunt, and otherwise enjoy such wildlife and
public lands. http://www.
NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS COUNCIL is a non-profit Montana corporation
with its principal place of business at Willow Creek, Gallatin
County. Native Ecosystems Council is dedicated to the
conservation of natural resources and the preservation of the Gallatin
National Forest. NEC has participated extensively in
administrative actions to protect these forests from environmentally
damaging plans and activities, and to protect native wildlife and
their habitat. Contact: Dr. Sara Jane Johnson
Bozeman, Montana, is committed to restoring buffalo (bison) on public
land managed by states and the U.S. Government. The Yellowstone
Buffalo Foundation aims to build a consensus on the national
importance of wild, free ranging, genetically viable core herds of the
animal named bison, also known as the American Buffalo, recognizing
that there is presently a problem with buffalo range and habitat as
illustrated by annual migrations of these wild buffalo out of
Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation
works to find resolutions that recognize that humans share a
biological ecosystem with all other life, including the
MEGHAN GILL is an individual who resides in Missoula, Montana
in Missoula County. Gill is a former volunteer and staff member
of the Buffalo Field Campaign, and has been concerned about and
involved with the issue of bison management for several years.
Since 2000, Ms. Gill has annually visited areas in and around
Yellowstone National Park for the express purpose of viewing bison and
other native wildlife in their natural habitat, and for advocating for
their right and need to have year-round access to habitat outside of
CHARLES (CHUCK) IRESTONE is an individual who resides in
Missoula, Montana in Missoula County. Irestone has been involved
with advocacy for bison and other native species since 1998. Mr.
Irestone has visited Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding
areas numerous times annually since 1994. Mr. Irestone considers
the Yellowstone bison the iconic symbol of our nation and a guide to
our path of sustainability. Wild bison in the GYE and Mr.
Irestone's bison advocacy work inspired Mr. Irestone to cofound the
Sustainable Business Council in Missoula. Every year, Mr.
Irestone hikes in the back country of Yellowstone to see the bison in
their natural setting, and intends to continue to do so.
DANIEL BRISTER is an individual who resides in Arlee, Montana
in Lake County. Brister is a staff member of the BFC, and has
been involved with bison advocacy since December, 1997. Mr.
Brister travels to West Yellowstone regularly to conduct work for BFC,
and to view wild bison in their native habitat. Mr. Brister
first visited YNP in 1992, and was particularly moved by seeing wild
bison in the area. He derives aesthetic, spiritual, cultural,
and recreational enjoyment and benefits from viewing wild bison
undisturbed in their native habitat, and his interests and enjoyment
of the wild bison are injured by the agencies’ management actions
that harm the bison, and threaten the future integrity of bison
populations in the
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