Court Overturns Political Decision To Deny Endangered Species Protection To Bison

Yellowstone National Park Bison

Published February 2, 2018

WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA – In a fantastic victory, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally denied Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone National Park bison population. The ruling overturns the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s negative 90-day finding, which concluded that there was not substantial information supporting the need to protect the bison under the Endangered Species Act. In 2016 the bison was officially designated as the National Mammal of the United States. Only about 5,000 bison remain in the Yellowstone herds which constitute the only wild, genetically pure bison to continuously occupy their native range in the United States.

“This is a huge victory,” said Buffalo Field Campaign Executive Director Ken Cole. “This is a long battle but we won a significant round for the buffalo today.”

State and federal agencies have been killing bison in and around Yellowstone National Park in an effort to reduce the imperiled population and cater to unfounded fears of transmission risk to local livestock operations of brucellosis, a non-native disease brought to the region by livestock,. However, a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences found that of all the instances of brucellosis transmission from wildlife to domestic cattle, not one single incident was attributable to bison.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service made a political decision to suppress and ignore science in order to deny the Yellowstone bison the protection they deserve,” said Josh Osher, Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “The administration is clearly bowing to the influence of the livestock industry and its agenda to minimize bison populations and their natural migrations, despite their status as the national mammal.”

The court ruled that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service improperly ignored an important scientific study that concluded there are two separate and genetically distinct herds of bison – the Central Interior herd and the Northern herd – in Yellowstone National Park. The current plan treats bison as a single herd, failing to provide safeguards to maintain both herds as distinct and isolated units. Currently, the Central Interior herd may already be too small to maintain its viability from a genetic standpoint.

“This is huge that the Court recognized the importance of science,” says Michael Harris, an attorney with Friends of Animals who argued the case. “It sends a signal to the Fish and Wildlife Service that they cannot manipulate the science to serve political interests, like cattle ranchers.”

In his ruling, the judge stated, “If two pieces of scientific evidence conflict, the Service must credit the supporting evidence unless that evidence is unreliable, irrelevant, or otherwise unreasonable to credit.”

“This moves bison back into queue for full and fair consideration under the Endangered Species Act,” said Buffalo Field Campaign Executive Director Ken Cole. “That’s so important for these small subpopulations who are at grave risk of blinking out under current management.”

A copy of the court order can be found here.

The full petition submitted by Buffalo Field Campaign, Friends of Animals, and Western Watersheds Project can be viewed here (PDF)

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