For Immediate Release:
July 22, 2004
Dan Brister, Buffalo Field Campaign, (406) 726-5555, bfc-media"at"wildrockies.org
West Yellowstone, Montana – Three conservation groups -- Buffalo Field Campaign, The Ecology Center, and Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers -- announced today that they will ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to rehear their lawsuit dismissed by a three-judge panel on July 14.
The groups say they are taking the unusual step of asking for a re-hearing “en banc.” A majority of the federal court’s active members must officially approve the conservation groups’ attempt to gain another hearing in their four-year old legal battle protecting bison and bald eagles in and near Yellowstone National Park.
The conservation groups first filed their lawsuit in May 2001, claiming the State of Montana and federal agencies’ efforts to haze and capture buffalo on public lands outside Yellowstone National Park are illegally harming American bald eagles and their habitat. American bald eagles are officially recognized as “threatened” with extinction.
Gallatin National Forest officials are ignoring written agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the groups contend, by allowing agents of the Montana Department of Livestock to harm bald eagles while capturing and slaughtering wild buffalo migrating from Yellowstone National Park to nearby winter range and calving grounds.
The groups are asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm the Forest Service’s legal responsibilities to prepare an environmental impact statement, adhere to commitments to protect the bald eagles, and secure endangered species’ critical habitat.
At the center of the dispute is Horse Butte, a 10,000-acre wildlife-rich peninsula surrounded by Hebgen Lake just outside West Yellowstone, Montana. Primarily Forest Service public lands, Horse Butte is recognized as critical habitat for threatened bald eagles and for Yellowstone's migrating bison. Yellowstone’s buffalo herd is the last wild and genetically pure herd to occupy their native habitat in the United States.
Forested hillsides on the Horse Butte peninsula provide security for three threatened bald eagle nests: Ridge, Narrows, and Horse Butte. Hebgen Lake provides foraging habitat for bald eagles nesting and migrating through the area during Yellowstone’s harsh winters. The Horse Butte nest has failed to produce any eaglets, and other bald eagle nests on the peninsula have also experienced nest failure since the Forest Service permitted the Montana Department of Livestock’s bison capture facilities on Horse Butte, according to the groups’ documents.
The groups cite research by Dr. Mary Meagher, who studied Yellowstone bison ecology for more than 30 years, as documentation that Yellowstone’s bison herd have occupied Yellowstone’s northern range for more than 8,000 years. While attempting to migrate to Horse Butte and other winter habitats, 3,545 bison have been slaughtered by the State of Montana’s Department of Livestock and the National Park Service in the last 20 years. These agencies slaughtered 280 buffalo during the winter of 2003-2004.
On July 14, 2004, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the group’s efforts to overturn a March 28, 2003, decision by Montana District Court Judge Charles C. Lovell. Lovell’s ruling dismissed claims that the Forest Service was in violation of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
“Facts are facts,” said Dan Brister of the Buffalo Field Campaign. “The eagles are not successfully reproducing since the Montana Department of Livestock built its bison trap on Horse Butte. The Livestock Department’s killing pens do not belong on our National Forests,” Brister said. “They are directly harming the recovery of America’s threatened bald eagles and enabling the slaughter of the last wild buffalo.”
Congress recently entered the Yellowstone fray in June, when a one-year moratorium on National Park Service funding for the bison slaughter was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives 215-202. Also in June, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich visited the site of the bison slaughter.
“The Forest Service considers killing up to 30 bald eagles not significant enough to merit careful scientific analysis,” said Darrell Geist, a spokesman for Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers. “We’ve got to challenge that kind of bureaucratic thinking if the Yellowstone ecosystem is going to have healthy bald eagle and bison populations.”
Buffalo Field Campaign’s Filing
To review the Buffalo Field Campaign’s complaint and appeal, go to:
Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling
For the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lawsuit ruling, go to: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/9th/0335474p.pdf
Circuit Court of Appeals En Banc Petition
To review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules for Rehearing En Banc petitions, go to:
U.S. House of Representatives Vote
On June 17, 2004, the Yellowstone Buffalo Amendment failed by the narrow vote of 215-202 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The amendment to the Department of Interior appropriations bill was offered by Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Charles Bass (R-NH). It specifically prohibited the National Park Service from using taxpayer dollars to kill wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. Check how your U.S. Representative voted by going to:
Bison Ecology and Paleontological Evidence
Paleontological evidence of bison occupying short grass prairies on the northern range of Yellowstone for 8,000 years from April 2002 workshop presentation by Dr. Mary Meagher.