* Update from the Field: Bison Lawsuit Heard in U.S. Federal Court
A formidable challenger. BFC file photo by Darrell Geist.
On Tuesday, 9/21, Buffalo Field Campaign, Western Watersheds Project, Tatanka Oyate and other plaintiffs brought our lawsuit to protect wild bison and their habitat before federal judge Charles C. Lovell.
The suit, heard in federal district court in Helena, MT, claims:
* U.S. Forest Service decisions are precluding native bison and associated species from occupying and using habitat on Gallatin National Forest.
* U.S. Forest Service is not providing for diversity of plant and animal species on the Gallatin National Forest, is not managing habitat for bison, and is not ensuring that viable populations of bison and associated species exist on the Forest.
* National Park Service decisions are causing impairment or unacceptable impacts to native bison populations by allowing the wanton destruction of wild bison and not conserving the wildlife species and related resources in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Western Watersheds Project Montana attorney Summer Nelson ably presented our arguments that:
1. The federal agencies do not know the true consequences of their actions which impair wild bison, other native wildlife and their habitat, actions which currently threaten the viability of wild bison and their evolutionary potential as a wildlife species;
2. The law requires the U.S. Forest Service to take a hard look at the changed circumstances favoring wild buffalo on Gallatin National Forest;
3. Yellowstone National Park is wantonly slaughtering buffalo, ignoring their Congressional mandates to prevent impairment and conserve wild buffalo;
4. Gallatin National Forest is not providing habitat to support populations of buffalo and associated species on the Forest;
5. The science has changed and the agencies involved have not adapted management actions to prevent harm to wild buffalo and the ecosystem they inhabit;
6. Cattle grazing allotments within Gallatin National Forest, such as Horse Butte, have been permanently closed, while private land has been acquired by buffalo friendly people on Horse Butte, demonstrating that strong local support exists for buffalo to be there year round;
7. New science indicates that more habitat can be opened to wild bison at a fraction of the cost the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) currently wastes to harm and kill migrating bison;
8. The IBMP has failed to protect Montana's brucellosis status, and that the wild buffalo were not the cause of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming each losing their brucellosis-free status since 2000.
Summer made a persuasive case for why these federal agencies need to re-open the public process and draft a new Environmental Impact Statement based on the changing scientific and land-based circumstances. She asked that the court review of both agencies' refusal to analyze and disclose new information and changed circumstances relating to bison management and brucellosis.
Judge Lovell, who has ruled several times previously on wild buffalo in Montana, and indeed was one of the architects to rule permitting the ongoing bison slaughter, observed that wild bison are supposedly "thriving" under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, while federal attorney Paul Barker claimed that 3,000 buffalo would be sufficient to maintain genetic diversity. Summer countered these statements with the Park Service's own language from a 2009 assessment by a Park biologist that said continued management actions [under the IBMP] "could diminish the ecological role of the largest remaining free-roaming bison population in the world..." In addition, the government attorneys had a difficult time explaining to Judge Lovell why Gallatin National Forest had never bothered to amend their 1987 Forest Plan to address and include bison.
The arguments of the federal agencies mainly fell along the highly contentious and surface lines of claiming 1) Gallatin National Forest does not need to manage every acre of habitat available on the Forest for native species; 2) The state manages wildlife on National Forest lands; 3) The Park is not impairing the buffalo (see how they've rebounded from the big slaughter of 2008?).
WWP attorney Summer Nelson had done her homework; she did an outstanding job. The evidence presented to the Court strongly demonstrates the integrity of the plaintiffs' claims that the the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service are breaking their own laws and causing irreparable and unnecessary harm to America's last wild buffalo population, and that the law requires these federal agencies to make significant changes that will benefit wild buffalo and their habitat.
Summer did a great job of presenting her case over the course of the three hour hearing. Afterwards, Chief Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Confederacy who was in attendance with his family, bestowed her with a Blackfeet name, "eek sah gah pee," that translates to "REAL GOOD!" Jimmy and his family traveled from Great Falls, Montana, to show their support for the plaintiffs and the action we are taking on behalf of wild buffalo. Jimmy brought with him a huge banner of the 1855 Blackfeet Treaty of Fort Benton, that his ancestors were signatories to. Jimmy reminded us that the roots of the current conflict have a long, rich history; that lands within what is now called the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was shared territory, aboriginal hunting grounds. Jimmy said the Blackfeet used to run buffalo along sacred stone lines in the hunt, and that one day, a bull buffalo would emerge from the herd carrying a sacred stone in his belly.... The buffalo, or "ee-nee" means everything in his native language.
It is uncertain when Judge Lovell will issue his decision on the merits of our case. Given his past decisions, we are cautious in our optimism as we await his ruling. However, we are very encouraged by how the briefing went in the lower court. Summer, with the able assistance of a team of attorneys that includes BFC Board Member Rebecca Smith, has done a great job of plumbing the administrative record in support of our arguments and we have every intention of pressing on to the Circuit Court of Appeals in the event Judge Lovell once again sides with the agencies.
For the Buffalo,
Western Watersheds Project
Buffalo Field Campaign
Read the legal complaint, about the plaintiffs, and more here.
* BFC West Coast Road Show Underway!
Click here to download posters you can place around your community.
BFC's Mike and Noah, along with the incredible musicians Good Shield and Phoenix After Buffalo have been making their way down the west coast. Today, BFC will be in Bend, Oregon, and tomorrow, in Williams, Oregon. There are still quite a number of shows scheduled, so please check our Road Show Schedule to see if BFC is coming to an area near you!
Did you attend a Road Show event and have a review or story you'd like to share? If so, please email Stephany. We'd love to hear your feedback!
* LAST CHANCE to Urge Yellowstone Against Vaccinating Wild Buffalo!
Below are two very important actions you can take that will make a tremendous difference for the buffalo:
1. Tomorrow, September 24, is the last day Yellowstone National Park will be accepting comments on their misguided proposal to vaccinate wild buffalo. Encourage Yellowstone to instead support "Wild Buffalo Trust Alternative D" which addresses the so-called brucellosis risk by removing cattle from wild bison habitat. "Wild Buffalo Trust Alternative D" was developed by Buffalo Field Campaign and strongly supported by our allies at Western Watersheds Project. Yellowstone must hear from you by September 24, 2010. Take Action Now!
Many thanks to everyone who has already sent in comments and spread the word to friends!
2. Urge Gallatin National Forest to close cattle grazing allotments and open habitat to wild buffalo! Please contact Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary C. Erickson and urge her to perform a suitability analysis to close the Slip & Slide, the South Fork and Watkins Creek grazing allotments and manage this habitat so it serves the needs of native animals. Learn more and send a letter right now, or contact Supervisor Erickson directly at email@example.com or call her at 406-587-6703.
* Don't Miss These Two New Films About Wild Bison
1. Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison. Learn more and check for screenings.
2. WISENT, a new film by Gene Bernofsky. Can Poland help save American bison? Watch WISENT.
Buffalo Field Campaign is honored to have helped supply footage and interviews for the making of these films.
* ALMOST GONE! Wild Bison 2011 Calendars
With powerful and endearing images, interesting facts, historic quotes and words from BFC volunteers in the field, BFC's Wild Bison 2011 Calendar has been a huge hit and they are going fast. We are nearly out of them and do not have plans to order more. Celebrate wild buffalo 365 days a year!
Order your Wild Bison 2011 Calendar before they are gone!
* Last Words ~ Rosalie Little Thunder
"By the standards of American culture, the Tatanka is regarded as a mere commodity. In the Yellowstone area, it is regarded as an inconvenience to the cattle industry, but they are the last of the great ancestors, with their genetic integrity uncompromised and instinctive wisdom intact.
It is unfortunate that we must seek remedies from those that may not have a similar cultural foundation or the wisdom of their ancestors, who may not have the necessary disciplines to guide their thinking or behaviors, but on whom rests the fate of the Yellowstone buffalo herd.
We seek to hold accountable those that are entrusted stewards of the land and the true and rightful inhabitants. Lack of stringent oversight can sometimes distort the necessary standards of accountability. I believe that we must bring about this scrutiny to protect the rights of a sacred species. And so, as tribal people, our challenge is to develop further strategies to preserve the core of our culture, that viable populations of wild buffalo are maintained."
~ Declaration of Rosalie Little Thunder, Western Watersheds Projects et al. vs. U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.
* Kill Tally
AMERICAN BUFFALO ELIMINATED from the last wild population in the U.S.
2009-2010 Total: 7
2009-2010 Slaughter: 0
2009-2010 Hunt: 4
2009-2010 Quarantine: 0
2009-2010 Shot by Agents: 3*
2009-2010 Highway Mortality: 0
*Two bulls that were drugged by APHIS on 5/4/10 were shot by DOL
later that evening. One was shot by DOL on 7/13/10 for trying to free his imprisoned relatives at the Corwin Springs quarantine facility.
2008-2009 Total: 22
2007-2008 Total: 1,631
Total Since 2000: 3,709*
*includes lethal government action, quarantine, hunts, highway mortality