Conservationists File to Halt Yellowstone Bison Killing

(01/22/1997) - Helena, MT - Pointing out that government agents have already shot or corralled and sent to slaughterhouses six hundred bison from Yellowstone National Park, local and national conservation groups today filed a court motion for an emergency injunction to halt further killing.

The groups warned that the program must be stopped immediately because the corralling, in combination with a difficult winter, threatens the survival of the last free-roaming bison herd in North America.

Conservationists challenged the bison trapping inside the park as a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act. Although the U.S. District Court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction on December 19, today their motion noted that since that time, "Exceptionally harsh winter weather has combined with snowmobile trail grooming to create a massive movement of bison towards the north and west boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. . . . the 575 Yellowstone bison that have been killed already this winter under the interim plan is greater than the number of bison that have been killed in any other year since the founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872."

The appeal of the U.S. District Court's decision will be pending for several months in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, during which time they say work by Yellowstone's leading bison researcher indicates that current practices could "jeopardize the very existence of the Yellowstone bison herd." The motion for an emergency injunction is necessary in order to ensure that the herd is not crippled before the Ninth Circuit has a chance to rule.

Represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (SCLDF), the groups asking for the emergency injunction include the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning, Gallatin Wildlife Association, American Buffalo Foundation, and David Ritchey. They are suing the National Park Service, which is corralling bison as they head out of the park and shipping them to slaughterhouses, as well as various other agencies in the Interior and Agriculture departments. Montana cattle ranchers harbor fears about brucellosis, a bacterial disease, passing from bison to cattle when they leave the park, despite the lack of a single documented case of such transmission.

Jim Angell, SCLDF lawyer representing the groups, emphasizes that, "The corralling program sets a number of inappropriate precedents, not only violating NEPA's requirement for environmental impact statements, but also implying that the bison must stay within park boundaries. Neither federal or state agencies have looked at alternatives or studied the effects on the ecosystem of removing the hundreds and hundreds of bison that have already been killed under this plan."

After participating in a meeting with Montana Governor Marc Racicot today, Mike Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said, "Montana has a responsibility to protect the Yellowstone bison herd, rather than turning Montana's public lands into a killing field. The harsh winter conditions make this an extraordinary year. We must allow bison to follow their natural instincts to migrate to lower-elevation range outside Yellowstone National Park."

At the beginning of the winter, Yellowstone's bison herd stood at more than three thousand. By the end of the winter, conservationists fear that those numbers will be greatly diminished. Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife, noted that, "The National Park Service should not be managing our nation's premiere wildlife populations based primarily on invalid fears and local interests. The free-roaming bison belong to all Americans, and they should at a minimum be protected on public lands outside park boundaries. They are part of our heritage that should be preserved for future generations."

Franz Camenzind of the Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning concludes, "What's happening now in Yellowstone proves that short-term solutions can be very fatal. We must stop this killing now and look for long-term solutions that are based on sound ecosystem concepts and not arbitrary political boundaries."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270