Bison that cross the Yellowstone National Park boundary into the Horse Butte area of Montana no longer must be hazed, harassed or slaughtered by the Montana Department of Livestock under an outdated bison management plan, according to a recent state court decision. A Montana court ruling rejected an attempt by the Montana Stockgrowers Association and two ranchers to force the department to unnecessarily assault any Yellowstone bison that migrate outside of the park.
Represented by Earthjustice, eight Horse Butte landowners and residents, joined by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council, intervened in the lawsuit, which was filed by the Stockgrowers, Sitz Angus Ranch, and rancher Bill Myers.
Although no cattle graze on Horse Butte, a 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan called for aerial and ground hazing to drive bison back into Yellowstone whenever they cross the park’s west boundary into the Horse Butte area. The asserted reason for this harsh treatment of bison is to protect domestic cattle from a disease, brucellosis, that is carried by some of the bison. In December 2008, the agencies that developed this plan, including the Department of Livestock, modified the plan to allow greater tolerance of bison on Horse Butte in recognition of the absence of cattle. The ranchers then sued to force the Department of Livestock to strictly follow the 2000 plan regardless of new information or changed circumstances.
The Montana court’s recent ruling dismissed a significant portion of the ranchers’ case. Earthjustice will continue to oppose the ranchers’ efforts to reinstate unnecessary hazing of bison.