Lawsuit tries to permanently derail plan to let bison use Gardiner Basin in the winter.

Early last spring bison were suddenly allowed to use the Gardiner Basin just north of Yellowstone Park for the first time in over a generation. State, federal and tribal officials signed what was to be a landmark agreement to let them roam the basin north to Yankee Jim Canyon during the winter. This was amazing because for the first time Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer put the state of Montana on the side of the bison and those who want to see the roam beyond the artificial confines of Yellowstone Park.  Over the years, thousands of bison had been killed in the battle over use of the area. Conservation organizations battling for free roaming bison had sprung up and and matured during the long period.

As the hungry bison moved north, conservationists, and many local residents rejoiced,  but fighting to the bitter end the Park County Stockgrowers Association their allies in the Park County government filed a lawsuit with a local judge who put an injunction on iconic animals’ freedom.

Today the issue is before State District Judge Wayne Phillips. It is unusual to see the state attorneys fighting the stockgrowers association who is pushing the same arguments they have made for years about brucellosis and danger to private property.  Many critics of the stockgrowers in recent years have come to argue the real issue is whether this small group of people will continue to dictate land management in the area and symbolically assert their cultural hegemony over other local residents and the American people.

An AP article by Matthew Brown quoted Park County Attorney Brett Linneweber saying that last year’s bison migration would not be allowed even if the county lost the case.

The first hearing on the matter is today, Oct. 26, in Livingston, Montana.

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Update 1 PM. 10/26/2011

There are actually two lawsuits before the court and they have been consolidated.
I have now learned from a knowledgeable source that today’s hearing has become very limited in scope  Originally there was to be a two-day hearing today and tomorrow to address all the issues.  However, the state of Montana had moved to disqualify the Stockgrowers’ attorney (and law firm) because he previously represented the state on bison related issues. They believe his cousel for the plaintiffs now is a conflict of interest. 

The district court has not yet ruled on that issue, and the Montana Supreme Court intervened (by request of  the state) to halt the hearing about the Stockgrowers’ claims until the disqualification issue is resolved.

So, the only issue at the hearing today is whether the Stockgrowers’ attorney will be disqualified.  That means unless the judge rules on any of the pending summary judgment motions without a hearing – or the parties settle, as the state indicated it may be close to doing with Park County – the merits of the case won’t be considered or decided until a later date.

Parties who have intervened in the case on behalf of the state are the Bear Creek Council, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by Earthjustice. Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign intervened on behalf of the state, to support the habitat and tolerance expansion.  The Farm Bureau has intervened on the side of Park County and the Stockgrowers.

Western Watersheds Project primary role has been to protect their interests based upon pending federal litigation that seeks a supplemental EIS, habitat for a viable bison population on the Gallatin National Forest (including in the Gardiner Basin where Park County and the Stockgrowers in these cases are attempting to prevent bison from inhabiting), and a halt to Park Service activities that impair bison and other park resources.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

16 Responses to Stockgrowers Association and Park County, MT continue to hinder landmark Yellowstone bison deal (updated)

  1. avatar Virginia says:

    How can the Park County Attorney declare that the migration will not take place even if the county loses the case? I don’t understand that statement.

  2. Virginia,

    The AP writer, Matthew Brown, said pretty much that he didn’t know what it meant, but it sounds like a threat to me. Because the County Attorney was further quoted,
    “The county’s not going to roll over and say there’s nothing we can do about it. People have a right to be safe,” he said. “There are steps we can take outside the legal arena, but we would prefer not to.”

    The full AP article is at http://is.gd/gKi6QH

  3. avatar WM says:

    Virginia,

    It is only speculation on my part and I have not seen the legal complaint. The County apparently believes it could go outside that complaint and scope of the current legal proceedings to seek relief. Nothing says they were a party to the agreement between the feds, state and tribes. One would suppose there would be monetary claims for damages by property owners/stock growers,etc.

    Park County would likely assert some kind of health and safety rule that would allow them, in their view, to over-ride the agreement that allows the bison to migrate into the valley affecting private property and safety of people in their homes, and kids at school. It seems the bison are causing private property damage to fences, irrigation pipes, yards and structures (one guy says the bison are rubbing on his house and who knows what that entails, paint and trim coming off and maybe shrubs being eaten), and occupying school yards. Candidly, these are valid concerns which parties to the agreement should address, if they have not. Legal liability would seem to attach to whomever allows the migration to occur, and equitable remedies would be sought.

    How Park County would exercise its rights on behalf of its citizens to keep the bison off, would be the unknown and troubling part.

    The article to which Ralph’s introductory comments refer:

    http://www.kgwn.tv/story/15872172/future-of-mont-bison-migrations-headed-to-trial

    • avatar Alan says:

      “There was never any problem with one or two…..” ‘Cause we just shoot those dur’n the hunt anyway!
      It is animal abuse not to allow these animals to get to their late winter feed. How many more millions are going to be wasted? Millions were spent (twice I believe) to acquire the “right” to allow bison to graze CUT land. Who knows how much was spent this time tearing up Hwy. 89 to install cattle grates and fencing? Montana wants to have their bogus “bison hunt”, yet bison are not allowed to occupy their winter habitat.
      These animals literally starve to death in the park in the late winter. The ground freezes solid and there is no way they can get to the grass frozen under rock hard ice and snow. I don’t even go in the park in late winter anymore, because it makes me sick to my stomach seeing these magnificent beasts reduced to skin and bones, trying to struggle along the road because it is the easiest way to go, only to have some as*h*le delivery truck driver or idiot tourist blow their horn and drive them into the deep snow where they just drop in their tracks.
      Much as I hate to say it, because I know many of the problems it could cause, but maybe the only way to fix this mess is to drop hay for them inside the park. Humans caused this problem; it’s up to humans to fix it. Else you may just as well round up all the bison in Yellowstone (except perhaps a few small herds of “mountain” bison that never attempt to migrate out) and remove them. It would be more humane. It would also doom Yellowstone to be forever known as the great, failed experiment.

  4. avatar Alan says:

    BTW, I’ve had cows come through my property, rub up against my house, tear up my garden fences. I’m told that the law in Montana requires that I put up a fence capable of keeping them out. This, IMHO, is no different.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      IMO Alan,

      The Stockgrowers have a dislike, a hatred, if you will, about being told to do anything or to refrain from it. They see themselves as the boss in this country even though they are a huge minority. The 1% versus the 99% again?

      • avatar Virginia says:

        Thanks for your explanations of this situation. In the Wed. Gazette, an attorney for the Montana Department of Fish,Wildlife and Parks disputes the claim of the stockgrowers’ lawsuit that challenges the status of the designation of wildlife for these buffalo. He states, “They are, in the end, wild animals. Sometimes you can predict what their behavior will be and sometimes you can’t… That’s what you have to take along with the privilege of living with wildlife on our landscape.” What a great comment – and, as you said, Ralph, these stockgrowers are under the impression that they rule the lands of the West and the wildlife (and people) that are its inhabitants.

    • I believe you are correct. The grazing lobby has seen to it that it is up to US to keep THEIR cows off our property. This includes public roads where, if you hit one and it dies, and YOU die, you still owe the owner for the cow.

      • avatar Buffalorancher says:

        Where is “your” property Veronica that you think these buffalo should be on? Are you talking about grazing allotments that we pay for, on BLM land that we pay taxes on?
        What is your personal experience with ranching & buffalo? Do you live near YNP so that when these “free-ranging” buffalo come into your yard & charge you when you’re getting your mail, or kill one of your horses, you’re okay with that? No, you think everyone else but you should have to pay for this. As long as you can take pretty pictures of them from the safety of your car, when you visit from back east, let those people worry about them.
        NOT gonna happen, sorry.
        In addition to being cattle ranchers & farmers(that put food on your table) we have had a large herd of buffalo for over 30yrs. They are on over 6,000 acres of privately owned native grassland. They are unpredictible, destructive & constantly migrate, despite being in such large, fenced-in area.
        It is not the days of pre-Lewis & Clark anymore & buffalo & populated areas do not work. So go to YNP to see your buffalo, I mean our buffalo

      • avatar Buffalorancher says:

        Veronica, where is your” property you’re referring to? Oh, are you referring to the BLM land that we pay taxes on & using grazing allotments, that we pay for? What is your experience with buffalo & ranching in Montana?

  5. avatar April says:

    Like you, Alan, for years now, I haven’t been able to go into the park–or drive down 89, or even walk around Gardiner–during late winter or spring because the sight of weak, starving bison broke my heart. In the past, however, I also knew that any animal I saw outside the gate, in Gardiner, or worse yet, along the highway, would end up tortured and ultimately killed. This past spring, when Schweitzer finally took the stand we’d all hoped for since his election, and the cattle guard was put in place, and I saw bison roaming up and down the highway between Gardiner and Yankee Jim without seeing an armada of LE, Park County sheriff vehicles and DOL cowboys standing along the road, plotting, my heart was just filled with joy and hope. I know plenty of people who talked of bison moving through their property, even breaking an occasional tree or fence this past spring, but to a person, the people I talked to thought it was a small price to pay for the thrill of seeing these magnificent animals finally free from the twisted minds and hearts of the DOL. A handful of ranchers also feel that way. So leave it to the stockgrowers to try to take us back to the dark ages. Talk of stopping the bison from moving up the Gardiner Basin regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit says it all about the kind of people behind this bogus, political, non-science-based agenda that has nothing to do with brucellosis, and everything to do with fear, hatred and power.

  6. Looks like they are working on a compromise with Park County, but not the Stockgrowers.

    The compromise seems far from certain. There is news at http://is.gd/jHCpx3. Billings Gazette.

  7. avatar Rolling Mountain says:

    Yesterday’s hearing before Judge Phillips – who was directed by Montana’s Supreme Court to rule on this issue first – focused solely on disqualifying John Bloomquist’s law firm from representing the Park County Stockgrowers over conflicts of interest.

    From the mid 1990’s into early 2000’s John Bloomquist put in 500 billable hours representing Montana’s Dept. of Livestock and then Governor Marc Racicot to get control over migrating bison by suing the feds to come up with a management plan, and manipulating the state legislature into granting management jurisdiction to livestock interests. Through his contract representing Montana and the livestock department Bloomquist defended the so-called bison management plan in several lawsuits. And now, through his real client the stockgrowers, Bloomquist seeks to stop a plan he himself had a hand in creating…

    Also noted at the hearing: Attorney Norm Peterson representing Montana said the state is “not implementing an expanded Zone 2 area as the partners have not agreed to it.” So this new found commitment of “tolerance” for bison in the Gardiner basin is only an agreement in principle, and some time in November the public will have a chance to weigh in on what in fact will be the new agreed upon plan…

    Park County attorney Brett Linneweber is despicable. He did not say much at the hearing other than the county may be back for a Temporary Restraining Order if Montana’s assurances “don’t pan out” about containing bison migrating to winter range – originally extending to Livingston and beyond, not confined to Gardiner basin. His implied threats to the press may reflect back on his lack of prosecution of the mad, upset person who shot dozens of rounds from a small caliber weapon into bison grazing along the Yellowstone River in proximity to people’s back yards and homes. Park County attorney Brett Linneweber has no credibility arguing public safety and health on this matter.

    The stockgrowers have conned the press into spewing their false narrative. They continue to thoroughly manipulate and mislead the public and poison perceptions of bison. A few in their bunch have codified their political control through lies and fraud. As long as bison are confined to Gardiner basin, so called management will be a 3-ring circus of capture pens, constant harassment and quarantine and all the benefits of bison freely roaming the land will be lost. Locals who have common sense and courage need to step up and get involved because right now you are not! And not enough of you are doing it! You have the power to make a difference, you are the difference, step up, act.

  8. avatar JB Klyap says:

    For years we’ve shared with the public that we have no problem with Bison on the ranch and in the public lands that surround us…especially the Daily Lake area, which was purchased by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks with the sole purpose of providing winter habitat for the migrating wildlife of Yellowstone Park. Public lands are YOUR lands, not the department of livestock! Allowing Bison a few years to naturally migrate and re-establish their historic habitat is key, there’s no need to hunt them innitially, unless you don’t want them on your property, if so, save the tax payers millions and shoot one, plus you’ll save a ton of trips to the grocery store with the healthiest meat out there-hands down-no argument! As for Brucellosis…it’s BOGUS. This is about grass and greed-no argument. The DOL is a rich and poweful organization that is deeply rooted politically. Go to Helena and stand up-take Montana back. Keep up the fight folks!

  9. avatar April says:

    J.B. Kylap represents a forward thinking, successful rancher not owned or controlled by the paranoia of the Stockgrowers Association, someone who demonstrates that it’s possible to do what’s right–and by that I mean value and work to protect bison–without sacrificing profitability. As JB so aptly put it, this is a grass war, nothing more. As for ranchers’ payment of grazing fees, thanks to the IBMP, the tax paying public has paid millions each year to protect rancher’s ridiculously low allotment fees. And what thanks do we get? Thousands upon thousands of OUR wild bison going to slaughter. BTW, my granddaughter, who just turned 4, thrilled at seeing wild bison in her yard on almost a daily basis this past spring, as did the rest of us. Teaching her to keep her distance and watching her closely in their presence is a small price to pay for the privilege. And before you ask, Buffalorancher, yes, I do have ranching roots–my grandfather was a Wyoming rancher and a state veterinarian who worked to eradicate brucellosis. He would have been sickened by what today’s ranchers are willing to do to Yellowstone’s bison in the name of a political myth–brucellosis.

  10. avatar tasunka maza says:

    lived in victor,montana
    know the hardheaded ignorance and prejudice that exists there.
    not only for bison,but native americans,alike.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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