A Montana court yesterday rejected an attempt by the Montana Stockgrowers Association and two ranchers to require the Montana Department of Livestock to haze, harass and slaughter all bison that cross the Yellowstone National Park boundary into the Horse Butte area of Montana.
Represented by Earthjustice, eight Horse Butte landowners and residents, joined by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), intervened in the lawsuit to prevent the unnecessary assault on Yellowstone bison. The lawsuit was filed by the Stockgrowers, Sitz Angus Ranch, and rancher Bill Myers.
Horse Butte, located north of West Yellowstone, Montana, occupies a peninsula of land that extends westward into Hebgen Lake. Each spring, bison migrate across the park’s western boundary to get to lower elevation foraging areas — including Horse Butte — that provide the earliest new grass each spring.
Although no cattle graze on Horse Butte at any point of the year, bison there are the subject of an aerial and ground hazing operation every spring intended to drive them back into the park. The hazing is performed under the 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan. In December 2008, the partner agencies, including the Department of Livestock, modified that plan to allow greater tolerance of bison on Horse Butte.
The Stockgrowers’ lawsuit asked a state judge to order the Montana Department of Livestock to haze, capture, or kill all bison entering Horse Butte, regardless of new information or changed circumstances, such as the complete absence of cattle on the Horse Butte peninsula.
"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 want buffalo on the landscape. Already this year, Department of Livestock has hazed hundreds of bison on private land even though there wasn’t a cow in sight."
"Hazing Yellowstone bison to allegedly protect cows that don’t exist is absurd, and it’s an incredible waste of resources and taxpayer dollars," said Matt Skoglund, Wildlife Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston, Montana. "It’s encouraging to see the court reject these baseless claims."
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 wildlife species still unnaturally confined to the political boundaries of the park. In the past weeks, hundreds of bison have been hazed on the park’s western boundary.
The Horse Butte property owners and residents who intervened in the Stockgrowers’ case are Edith Ford, Joanne Mayo, Ed Millspaugh, Tom Sheperd, Ann Stovall, Joann Stovall, Karrie Taggart, and Jeannette Therien. These individuals, along with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Natural Resource Defense Council, are represented by the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, a public-interest environmental law firm.
Read the order (PDF)