United States Judge Ricardo Urbina today issued an injunction prohibiting livestock grazing on approximately 2,000 acres of federal land near Yellowstone Park. The State of Montana has used the presence of livestock grazing on these lands as an excuse for the continued slaughter of Yellowstone’s buffalo. Judge Urbina adopted the findings of fact and injunction recommendations of Magistrate Judge John Facciola. Judge Facciola ruled on May 13, 2002 that the Forest Service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to do any environmental analysis before re-issuing a 10-year grazing permit for the Horse Butte allotment on December 19, 2000.
“This is a major victory for Yellowstone’s bison,” said Doug Honnold of the Earthjustice, an attorney representing the groups filing the lawsuit. “Now two federal judges have ruled that continued livestock grazing in this area is illegal.”
This year alone, the state of Montana has slaughtered more than 200 bison for venturing outside of Yellowstone’s western boundary. Judge Urbina voided the Horse Butte grazing permit and blocked further livestock grazing on the allotment until the Forest Service first completes an environmental analysis for the grazing decision. In his earlier ruling, Judge Facciola determined that “closure of the allotment to livestock grazing would significantly reduce the need for hazing and killing of bison.”
“Now the State of Montana has no basis for killing bison on public lands in the Horse Butte area,” said Michael Scott, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “We hope the State of Montana will decide, based on this ruling, to stop spending taxpayer dollars to kill the public’s wildlife on public land.”
The Horse Butte allotment is located on the Gallatin National Forest approximately five miles west of the Park boundary near West Yellowstone, Montana. The presence of cattle on the allotment has been used by the State of Montana as an excuse for an annual program of buffalo hazing and slaughter. Horse Butte provides essential winter range for Yellowstone buffalo that migrate out of the Park to escape severe cold and heavy snows. Government agents have killed hundreds of buffalo entering these national forest lands over the past decade as part of a program aimed to protect cattle from a theoretical threat that buffalo might infect them with a livestock disease known as brucellosis. While the State of Montana has shipped to slaughter more than 200 bison in the Horse Butte area this winter, the Horse Butte allotment authorizes only 147 cow/calf pairs to graze in the area. The transmission of brucellosis between buffalo and domestic cattle in the field has never been documented.
“The buffalo were slaughtered in the 1800s to destroy the food supply of the Native American people and to make room for European cattle. It is a tragedy that slaughtering buffalo is still government policy today,” said Fred DuBray, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and president of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative. The Yellowstone herd is the last remnant of the estimated 60 million buffalo that once roamed the Great Plains and the American West. Millions were slaughtered in the late-nineteenth century, and only the Yellowstone buffalo survived as a wild herd.
“No longer can the summer grazing of 147 cow/calf pairs on 2000 acres of federal land be used to justify the wholesale slaughter of bison,” said Caroline Kennedy, Defenders of Wildlife’s Director of Special Projects.