Horse Butte Residents Seek to Shield Bison from Stockmen Lawsuit

Bison safety on prime spring calving grounds at stake


Joanne Mayo, Horse Butte landowner, (406) 646-9308
Karrie Taggart, Horse Butte homeowner, (406) 646-5140
Amy McNamara, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, (406) 586-1593
Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council, (406) 581-3839
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council, (312) 780-7424 or (773) 531-5359

In an effort to blunt an unnecessary attack on Yellowstone bison, eight Horse Butte landowners and residents have requested permission from a court in Madison County, Montana, to oppose a lawsuit filed recently by the Montana Stockgrowers Association. The landowners are joined by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Specifically, the landowners and organizations have requested the opportunity to “intervene” in state court, asking the judge to reject the Stockgrowers’ demand to essentially keep bison out of Montana — even in places where there are no conflicts with landowners or cattle.

The stockgrowers, joined by the Sitz Angus Ranch and rancher Bill Myers, filed their lawsuit in late May. Their lawsuit asks a Madison County state judge to order the Montana Department of Livestock to remove all bison from the Horse Butte area in Montana each spring, regardless of new information or changed circumstances.

Horse Butte, located north of West Yellowstone, Montana, occupies a peninsula of land that extends westward into Hebgen Lake. The butte is surrounded on three sides by water and the landowners welcome grazing bison.

In May, the Department of Livestock hazed bison back into Yellowstone National Park from private property on Horse Butte over the objections of the residents and landowners. At the time, Yellowstone was still snow-covered, forcing the bison and their calves to struggle for forage inside the park when spring grass was readily available on Horse Butte.

“We welcome bison on our property,” says Joanne Mayo, owner of 15 acres on Horse Butte. “Given cattle no longer graze Horse Butte at any time of year, it is unnecessary for DOL to force bison back into the park.”

Karrie Taggart, a Horse Butte homeowner and organizer of a neighborhood association called Horse Butte Neighbors of Buffalo (HOBNOB) is also seeking more tolerance for bison. “Residents across Horse Butte post signs saying that buffalo are welcome on their properties. This year over 150 buffalo from Horse Butte were sent to slaughter even though there wasn’t a cow in sight.”

The Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) finalized in 2000 dictates how bison are managed outside of Yellowstone and calls for adaptation to changing circumstances. The IBMP agencies used this provision this spring to give the beleaguered bison population an opportunity to gain some strength while the snow melted in Yellowstone.

The Montana Stockgrowers Association asked a judge to force the Department of Livestock to haze bison off the butte by the May 15 deadline assigned in 2000. While the risk of disease transmission to cattle has been cited to justify the capture and slaughter of Yellowstone bison, in this case the Montana Stockgrowers Association has demanded that bison not be allowed even on cattle-free private and public lands in Montana.

Bison are the only native wild-game animal still unnaturally confined to the political boundaries of a park. More than 1,400 bison — about one-third of the nation’s last remaining genetically pure herds — were slaughtered this past winter while leaving Yellowstone in search of food.

“Bison are native wildlife in Montana and are in critical need of habitat outside the park,” says GYC’s Amy McNamara. “Practical solutions exist to provide native bison with habitat outside the park while also ensuring they don’t commingle with livestock. Through their lawsuit the Montana Stockgrowers Association is asserting that bison should never be able to leave the park even when cattle are not present.”

NRDC’s Louisa Willcox adds, “Bison, elk, and other wildlife are doing what is needed to survive in heavy snow winters like the last one. They migrate to lower elevation lands in search of grass. This problem is not going away, but there is a simple fix: let buffalo graze on Horse Butte. The Montana Stockgrowers Association should be trying to work out a solution instead of bullying the state and running roughshod over the wishes of the property owners on Horse Butte with their heavy-handed tactics.”

GYC and NRDC are committed to continuing their work with government agencies and private landowners to provide cattle-free zones outside of Yellowstone where bison have room to roam and are treated like the state’s other wildlife.

The Horse Butte property owners and residents seeking intervention are Edith Ford, Joanne Mayo, Ed Millspaugh, Tom Sheperd, Ann Stovall, Joann Stovall, Karrie Taggart, and Jeannette Therien. These individuals, along with GYC and NRDC, are represented by the Bozeman office of Earthjustice, a public-interest environmental law firm.

Read the letter regarding bison management (PDF)

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