For Immediate Release:
April 1, 2004
Mike Mease (406) 646-0070
Missoula, Montana - The Buffalo Field Campaign has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Missoula against numerous agents of the Montana Department of Livestock, as well as the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department and one Forest Service officer. The group asserts that years of harassment escalated after the attacks of September 11, and now includes government spying such as that authorized by the Patriot Act to monitor suspected terrorist organizations. In addition to aggressive surveillance tactics, BFC maintains that volunteers have been subjected to a pattern and practice of illegal detentions, seizures of video-tapes used to document controversial bison hazing, capture, and slaughter operations, and false arrests on vague charges, such as obstruction of justice, allegedly for the purpose of discouraging them from engaging in constitutionally protected activities.
Included among the allegations are claims of deadly assaults by MDOL agents. In one instance during the summer of 2002, BFC claims that MDOL agent Shane Grube dragged a dead moose carcass next to one of their patrol stations in the Gallatin National Forest, positioning the carcass between volunteers and an active grizzly bear closure area. At the time of the incident, BFC volunteer Greg Marin was stationed there with his three-year-old son Dakota. Earlier in the year, according to BFC volunteers Chris May and Summer Nelson, MDOL agent Rob Morton attempted to hit May on a National Forest road with his snowmobile, forcing May to dive out of the way, and then dismounted and proceeded to shove Mr. May off the road, threatening to arrest him if he didn't get off "my side of the road."
A tense relationship has always existed between BFC and the agencies responsible for the ongoing slaughter of hundreds of wild Yellowstone bison. According to BFC Campaign Coordinator Mike Mease, it is these kinds of "outrageous incidents" that prompted the group to consider legal action to protect its members. Mease said, "We understand that these people have a job to do, and while we happen to believe that their mission is immoral, we have always tried to respect the humanity of the government employees involved." Mease added, "Over time it has become very clear that they don't have mutual respect for American citizens who are exercising their rights and also trying to do a job - which is to gather news and document government operations."
BFC is a nonprofit group of activists dedicated to publicizing and halting the hazing, trapping, and slaughter of the Yellowstone buffalo, members of America's only continuously wild herd. One of their primary tactics is to gather newsworthy video footage for dissemination to national media outlets, in the hopes of bringing enough political pressure to bear on the agencies to change their lethal tactics. Activists have also engaged in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to call attention to and halt bison slaughter operations. State and Federal agencies have killed 2,778 buffalo in the past ten years.
The group was tipped off to the government's attempts to portray them as a terrorist organization when a doctor with one of the world's largest health care providers was mistaken for a BFC advocate after visiting the activist camp less than two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. According to his own formal complaint, Dr. Stephan Fleck was on vacation from Indiana in November, 2001, and decided to educate himself about the ongoing controversy. When he pulled over to talk to Gallatin County Sheriff's deputies parked on the side of highway 191 during a hazing operation, he was mistaken for a BFC advocate and his earnest inquiries were answered with a physical assault, search, and interrogation. Once the officers learned who he was, they apologized and let him go. A few days later, Dr. Fleck visited the station and learned that the reason he was treated so rudely was because his vehicle had earlier been observed at BFC headquarters. Much to his amazement, he was then informed by a Sheriff's deputy that BFC was an eco-terrorist organization that killed dogs, threatened local families, and evaded taxes. He was informed, however, that since the attacks of September 11, the government had a much better handle on "these kind of people." Dr. Fleck never received a response to the complaint he filed with Gallatin County.
According to Mease, Dr. Fleck's experience only confirmed BFC's worse suspicions, "The government noticeably stepped up their efforts to thwart our campaign and intimidate our volunteers after September 11." In a right-to-know suit filed by BFC against MDOL in 2002, the state agency filed an "Index of Withheld Documents" including fourteen "Investigative Reports" from MDOL agents, all but one of them post-dating the terrorist attacks. Also withheld were 121 photographs of BFC "members, supporters, and activities."
Mease concluded that, in addition to securing protection for BFC volunteers, "It is our hope that by filing this suit, we will be able to re-gain reasonable access to government operations so Americans can see the senseless slaughter that their tax money is being wasted on."