Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Western Watersheds Project have filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) for failing to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the distinct population (comprised of at least two herds) segment of bison in Yellowstone National Park in response to two citizen petitions.
“What an insult to the American public that the wild bison, who was named our first national mammal in May, continues to be slaughtered because of pressure from the meat industry and ranchers grazing their doomed cattle and sheep,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “These herds are obviously in a place where they should already be protected.”
The 4,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park are the only genetically pure bison herds of that size in America. But hundreds are slaughtered every year when snow and ice cover the bison’s food and hunger pushes them to lower elevations across the park boundary in Montana. When they cross this arbitrary line, the buffalo enter a zone of violent conflict with cattle and sheep ranchers.
“Protection under the Endangered Species Act is needed to counter these management inadequacies and to get state and federal agencies to address the threats these bison face,” added Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project and author of the listing petition. “Instead of allowing these bison to behave like bison and move with the seasons, government agencies are practicing indiscriminate killing that is reducing their genetic diversity.”
The lawsuit states that in issuing a negative 90-day determination on the petitions to list the bison as threatened or endangered, USFWS failed to rely upon the best available science, applied an incorrect legal standard to the petition and ignored the plain language of the ESA, which requires that any species threatened by one or more of five factors shall be designated as endangered or threatened.
Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program, points out that USFWS failed to consider that the curtailment of habitat has already resulted in placing the Yellowstone bison at risk of extinction. USFWS deems the population status to be stable, however under the ESA, the agency is required to not only look at the current numbers of bison, but how much of the bisons range has already been destroyed. Bison historically occupied approximately 20,000 square kilometres and presently only 3,175 square kiometres within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park serve as principal bison habitat.
“There were millions and millions of acres that were available to the bison that are no longer available to them because of cattle and sheep ranching. Their range has been curtailed by 90 percent, and that alone should be enough to warrant a listing,” Harris said.
“America’s national mammal, the wild bison, is threatened with extinction because of the actions of the agencies entrusted with protecting them,” added Dan Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. “The Department of Interior should base its decisions on the best available science, not political pressure from the livestock industry.”
The groups’ petition to list Yellowstone bison is available online at:
Buffalo Field Campaign ESA Petition (PDF)