Victory: Judge Rejects Livestock Label for Wild Bison in Montana

bisonFI

Efforts to conserve and restore wild bison won a victory Monday when a Montana judge rejected an effort by opponents of bison restoration to classify the iconic animals as livestock instead of wildlife under state law.

bisonFI

Once numbering 30 million across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, wild bison were almost driven to extinction by hunters in the late 19th century. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

If it had been accepted, the argument rejected by Montana District Judge John McKeon would have treated wild bison as livestock under Montana law once the animals were captured and held in quarantine as a prelude to wild bison restoration efforts. A legal classification as livestock, in turn, would have transferred jurisdiction over quarantined bison from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to the Montana Department of Livestock—a move that threatened to impede any future efforts to restore native bison as a wildlife species in appropriate portions of their historic habitat.

However, Judge McKeon ruled that wild bison remain classified as wildlife under state law regardless of their confinement in quarantine.

“This ruling rightly discredits what amounted to a stealth attack on future efforts to restore wild bison in Montana,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation in opposing Citizens for Balanced Use’s argument. “Wild bison are classified as wildlife under Montana law. Now it is time to restore wild bison as wildlife on the Montana landscape.”

Monday’s ruling represents the latest chapter in a successful legal effort by the conservationists to support a plan by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to transfer a group of disease-free wild bison from a quarantine facility near Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations in northeast and north central Montana.

Citizens for Balanced Use filed a lawsuit in 2012 to stop the transfer program, and the Montana district court responded by issuing a preliminary injunction that halted the planned bison transfer to Fort Belknap lands. But the conservationists appealed that injunction ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, which overturned the injunction in a decision issued in June 2013. The Fort Belknap transfer went forward later that summer.

“Judge McKeon has now validated the obvious,” said Defenders of Wildlife program director Jonathan Proctor. “Just because wild Yellowstone bison were moved to a different location doesn’t make them any less wild. These bison were moved specifically to start a new wild herd and are managed as wildlife. This victory will enable wild bison recovery to continue on willing locations in Montana—such as the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations.”

Once numbering approximately 30 million across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, wild bison were almost driven to extinction by market hunters in the late nineteenth century. Montana was among their last strongholds, but the slaughter persisted until in 1903 only about 25 individuals remained in the wild, located in the Pelican Valley of Yellowstone National Park. Since then, Yellowstone’s wild bison population has rebounded to approximately 4,000 animals, and Montana wildlife officials continue to consider plans to transplant some of these wild bison to the species’ historic plains habitat.

——–

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

Yellowstone Announces End to 2014 Bison Slaughter Following One-Man Blockade

Man Risks Arrest Blocking Road That Leads Yellowstone Bison to Slaughter

——–

Update: Yellowstone Ships 17 More of America’s Last Wild Bison to Slaughter

americanbisonfi

Yellowstone National Park shipped 17 more of America’s last wild bison to slaughter this morning. The buffalo were transferred to the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) for direct shipment to a tribal slaughter facility.

americanbisonfi

Approximately 4,400 of America’s last remaining buffalo roam free in the West. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Since Feb. 7, approximately 87 of America’s last wild, migratory bison have been captured inside Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek bison trap, located in the Gardiner Basin. Patrols with Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), report that Yellowstone National Park has been luring wild bison into the Stephens Creek trap with hay. Bison have been captured without ever having left Yellowstone’s boundaries.

To date, 37 wild buffalo have been transferred to the CSKT for slaughter. Five bison were transferred to USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, the federal livestock overseer, and the agency will use them for research in a highly controversial birth control experiment.

Tom McDonald, Fish & Wildlife Division Manager for the CSKT’s Tribal Natural Resource Department told BFC today that, “The death sentence on those bison is not put on them by us, but by the National Park Service and the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP).”

As of this press release, 45 wild bison remain inside Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek bison trap. It is anticipated that the InterTribal Buffalo Council, a federally chartered bison ranching organization, will take captured buffalo from Yellowstone to tribal slaughter facilities later this week.

Nez Perce tribal member and member of BFC’s board of directors, James Holt remarked, “It is painful to watch these tribal entities take such an approach to what should be the strongest advocacy and voice of protection. It is one thing to treat their own fenced herds in this manner, it is quite another to push that philosophy onto the last free-roaming herds in existence.”

Yellowstone plans to slaughter between 600 and 800 bison this winter, according to park spokesman Al Nash. “We’re going to seek opportunities to capture animals that move outside the park’s boundaries,” he said.

None of the buffalo that have been captured have left Yellowstone’s boundaries.  

The state-federal-tribal IBMP has set a “population target,” of 3,000 to 3,500 animals.

ww

Hazing and capture operations carried out under the Interagency Bison Management Plan in 2011 near Gardiner, MT. Photo credit: Lance Koudele /Buffalo Field Campaign

“The population target set by the IBMP is an arbitrary number based on politics, not science,” said Stephany Seay, of BFC. “Yellowstone completed a bison carrying capacity study in 2009, which determined that the Park could sustain upwards of 6,200 wild bison just within Yellowstone’s interior, additionally, there are tens of thousands of acres of public land surrounding Yellowstone that bison should be allowed to access year-round.”

The current buffalo population numbers approximately 4,400 (1,300 in the Central Interior and 3,100 in the Northern range). The Central Interior subpopulation also migrates north into the Gardiner basin and has not recovered from the last Park-led slaughter in 2008 that killed over half of the Central Interior buffalo. The government’s “population target” makes no distinction for conserving subpopulations in this unique buffalo herd.

Yellowstone National Park has failed to complete a population viability study, which was designated as a research priority by the IBMP back in 2000.

BFC is vehemently opposed to the IBMP’s management actions against bison, and is actively pushing for habitat expansion outside of Yellowstone National Park. Bison advocates are currently pressuring Gov. Bullock (D-MT) to take a leadership role in influencing state agency decisions and approve an Environmental Assessment that would provide year-round habitat for wild bison in the Hebgen Basin.

To speak out against the IBMP’s slaughter visit the Buffalo Field Campaign’s page and take action. 

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

topnewsbanner13