USDA-APHIS Sued for Violating Freedom of Information Act

Published February 9, 2018

MISSOULA, MONTANA – Buffalo Field Campaign filed a complaint on February 7, 2018 against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the U.S. District Court of Montana. The West Yellowstone, Montana-based wild buffalo advocacy group says the federal agency is violating the Freedom of Information Act.

Buffalo Field Campaign’s complaint alleges that APHISviolated the Freedom of Information Act by:
(1) failing to provide a final determination resolving Buffalo Field Campaign’s Freedom of Information Act request within the time required by law;
(2) failing to provide an “estimated completion date,” as required by law;
(3) failing to timely respond and approve Buffalo Field Campaign’s fee waiver; and
(4) failing to provide non-exempt responsive records.

The Freedom of Information Act requires U.S. government agencies to promptly make public records available to any person who submits a request. Under the law, APHIS must inform requesters, within twenty business days, about whetherthe agency will comply with the request and, if so, when it expects to provide the records sought.

On October 11, 2017, Darrell Geist, Buffalo Field Campaign’s habitat coordinator, electronically submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the disclosure of records concerning Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s use of “GonaCon,” a highly controversial immune-contraceptive chemical being administered to wild bison removed from Yellowstone National Park.

APHIS set an initial response date for November 9, 2017, butfailed to set a release date or make a determination as to when the agency will release the records sought within that time frame. Repeated requests to the agency for information about the processing of the request went unanswered.

Read the complaint (PDF)

“We are unaware of anyone other than the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service who has records on the well-being of once wild buffalo held in captivity for the livestock agency’s population control experiment,” says Ken Cole. “We want to know what is happening to the buffalo in captivity that once roamed free in the Yellowstone ecosystem.”

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s taxpayer funded experiment with GonaCon calls for capturing up to 104 wild bison in Yellowstone National Park over several seasons, and transferring them to double-electric fenced facilities leased on private lands in Gardiner, Montana. At the end of the population control experiment, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says bison administered with GonaCon will be euthanized and disposed of by incineration or buried in a landfill because GonaCon cannot be consumed by humans.

“If GonaCon is not healthy for humans, it is certainly dangerous for our national mammal,” said Cole.

It is uncertain and unknown what the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service intends to do with the bison that were not administered GonaCon and remain in captivity.

“A central tenet of a healthy democracy is that citizens need to know what their government is doing, and why,” says attorney Daniel C. Snyder, of the Eugene, Oregon based Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C. “Congress codified the American people’s rights to access such information in the Freedom of Information Act. Buffalo Field Campaign’s rights were violated when APHIS unlawfully delayed making a determination within the twenty-day statutory deadline and failed to promptly produce records responsive to the FOIA request.”

Missoula, Montana based attorney Timothy Bechtold, Bechtold Law Firm, is also assisting in the case.

Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, the courts, and the policy arena on behalf of America’s last wild buffalo, the Yellowstone herds who are our country’s national mammal.

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