Published September 13, 2019
Agency ignores court order, issues scientifically invalid 90-day ESA finding
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Conservationists are blasting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notice in the Federal Register, published Sept. 6, 2019, that denies further consideration Endangered Species Act protections for bison herds in Yellowstone National Park. Today’s finding does nothing to remedy the fundamental flaw in the original finding that was struck down by the District Court for the District of Columbia in 2018. The new finding still applies the wrong standard of evidence for a 90-day finding, which a federal judge found illegal in 2017, and continues to disregard important scientific evidence that the bison herds in Yellowstone are two distinct genetic subpopulations which are threatened by current management actions that disproportionally target the Central Interior herd for capture and slaughter.
“Once again, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has applied the wrong evidentiary standard in our petition to list the Yellowstone bison as threatened or endangered,” said Darrell Geist. “The genetically distinct subpopulation of wild bison in the Central range is at risk of extinction. Nothing is being done to turn that fact around.”
The Yellowstone bison herds are the only continuously free-roaming wild bison in the United States. They are the direct descendants of an estimated 60 million bison that once roamed North America, and are the only herds of substantial size free from cross-breeding with domestic cattle. Unfortunately, due to the political pressure applied by the livestock industry, America’s national mammal is confined to less than 1 percent of its original range and in Yellowstone it faces the constant threat of capture and slaughter by the Park Service as they attempt to migrate beyond the Park’s borders.
“The simple truth is that the livestock industry does not want bison to exist as a native wildlife species in the United States,” said Josh Osher, Montana and Public Policy Director for the Western Watersheds Project. “The Trump administrations latest finding is one more example of way in which industry is favored over the natural world at all costs, even the potential extinction of an American icon, the wild bison.”
The new finding also wrongly limits the consideration of threats to the bison that occur as a result of the arbitrary confinement of the herds to the Park boundaries and some small areas immediately adjacent; fails to acknowledge the significant threat posed by climate change to the bison’s current and potential habitat; and ignores the fact that the bison herds in Yellowstone are the only remaining wild bison herd of significant size that contain no cattle DNA. As a wildlife species, bison have lost 99% of their range and been reduced to one percent of their former numbers in North America.
“The new finding continues to flaunt the Endangered Species Act’s legal requirement to use the best available science and not politics,” says Michael Harris, Legal Director of Friends of Animals.