The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the decision of a lower court today, allowing wild bison room to roam outside the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. The ruling upholds a February 2012 decision by state agencies to allow bison seasonal access to important winter and early spring habitat outside the north boundary of the park in the Gardiner Basin area until May 1 of each year.
The ruling rebuffs demands by some livestock producers and their allies to require aggressive hazing and slaughtering of bison that enter the Gardiner Basin area from Yellowstone National Park in the winter and early spring in search of the forage they need to survive.
“Today’s state Supreme Court ruling represents a victory for all those who want to see wild bison as a living part of the Montana landscape,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who defended the bison policy in the case on behalf of the Bear Creek Council (BCC), Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Now that the Court has rejected claims requiring bison to be slaughtered at the park’s boundaries, we can move forward to secure room for wild bison to roam outside of Yellowstone National Park over the long term.”
In two lawsuits filed in May 2011, the Park County Stockgrowers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and Park County, Montana, sought to block implementation of the new policy and require state officials to adhere to outdated plans for bison hazing and slaughter. Although the plaintiffs in the cases raised concerns about the potential for bison to infect cattle with brucellosis, the only two cattle ranchers operating year-round in the Gardiner Basin did not join the legal challenge.
Bison are the only native wildlife species still unnaturally confined to the political boundaries of Yellowstone National Park for any part of the year. As recently as 2008, more than 1,400 bison—about one-third of the current size of Yellowstone’s bison population—were captured and slaughtered by government agencies while leaving Yellowstone in search of food.