Animal Legal Defense Fund Sues to Lift Park Service Closure of Yellowstone Park during Bison Killings

Yellowstone National Park Bison

Yellowstone National Park Bison

Lawsuit alleges First Amendment guarantees access

Published January 26, 2016

CASPER, WYOMING – The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Jamie M. Woolsey of the private Wyoming law firm Fuller, Sandefer & Associates, L.L.C., and two constitutional law professors filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of journalist Christopher Ketcham and wild bison advocate Stephany Seay, who are seeking access to Yellowstone Park’s controversial bison trapping operations that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of bison.  The lawsuit argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park.

The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on February 15, 2016. During the capture and kill operation, the Park Service closes parts of the park to public access.

“It’s ironic that to benefit Montana ranchers grazing their cattle—an invasive species—Yellowstone Park has agreed to facilitate the capture and killing of 900 American bison, an iconic, native species,” said law professor and ALDF attorney Justin Marceau.

Past accounts of similar bison killing operations have provided evidence of brutal treatment of the animals. The centerpiece of the Park’s role in the slaughter is the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, which is located entirely within the national park. The bison are driven into the facility, held in pens, tested, and eventually forced into trucks and transported to slaughter.  In recent years, the Park Service reversed its previous policy that allowed members of the public to witness and document the operation—the Park Service itself shot video and photographs—and now proposes to offer only three supervised tours, including one when the trap facility at Stephens Creek was not in operation.

Yellowstone’s public information office also used to offer information on how many bison were captured, shipped to slaughter, or injured each day.  During the past two bison kills, however, the park delayed release of that information for two weeks.

“If the First Amendment right of access is to mean anything,” Marceau went on to say, “it means that citizens and journalists should have reasonable, non-disruptive access to their publicly-funded national park to observe and memorialize one of the most controversial uses of national park land imaginable.”

“No one wants their federal tax dollars to be used by Park Service rangers to abuse and kill the very animals the service is responsible for protecting,” said Seay.  “The Park Service doesn’t want the public to see these shameful activities.”

Ketcham has written about the bison controversy for VICE, Harper’s, and other magazines and websites. “I want full access to the operations,” he said, “so I can effectively report on the issue. I want to be able to see the suffering of these animals up close, and thus bring readers up close.”

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