U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell has issued a 14-day restraining order against using helicopters to haze bison back into Yellowstone National Park because of well documented grizzly bear activity in the area. Last year the Judge Lovell denied a similar request citing technical issues related to the lawsuit but, after both the Buffalo Field Campaign and the Gallatin National Forest documented grizzly presence in the areas where the helicopter hazing was taking place, the judge granted the temporary restraining order request made by the Alliance for Wild Rockies.

The Interagency Bison Management Plan, issued in 2000, scarcely examined the effect of bison hazing on grizzlies and made the assumption that the hazing would primarily occur during the winter months when grizzlies were hibernating. The plan also said that helicopter hazing would not take place if grizzlies were confirmed I the area where the hazing would take place.

One of the reasons that the Montana Department of Livestock (DoL) uses helicopters is to scare the bison off of private lands where the bison are welcome and the DoL is not. The agency claims that it can trespass on private property to remove the bison but has declined to enter the property on foot because they want to avoid looking like they don’t care about private property rights, which they don’t. Presumably this forces the hand of the DoL to violate the property rights of Horse Butte residents who welcome bison.

This highlights the obvious conflict that exists in many western states, and particularly Montana. Livestock and their owners have more rights than the average person.

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

16 Responses to Judge issues temporary restraining order against helicopter hazing of bison in and near Yellowstone National Park. Livestock interests forced to argue against private property rights.

  1. skyrim says:

    “against private property rights”….
    this should be interesting

  2. JEFF E says:

    “Livestock and their owners have more rights than the average person”

    the livestogk industry run’s Montana. Make no mistake about it.

  3. Mike says:

    Awesome news! A big thank you to Alliance for the Wild Rockies and this judge.

  4. Ralph Maughan says:

    Judge Lowell, has in my opinion, been pretty poor on this in the past, but I suppose the legal arguments and the good field work documenting grizzlies, plus the many years of violations by the DOL may have all made the difference.

    • Salle says:

      Well, you can ask the residents of Horse Butte about the grizzlies, they’ve been there all along. Several of the residents I know tell me about them regularly. I’ve seen them there myself. It’s pretty widely known that there are bears and trumpeter swans and other wildlife impacted by this expensive, reckless and ignorant, cruel and inhumane behavior perpetrated by the DoL yet they seem to carry on with impunity at taxpayer expense. National Taxpayer expense.

      Question #1… Just why is it that federal taxpayer funds (~$3M each year) are used for a state agency, with no legitimate knowledge of wildlife, to manage federally administered (YNP) animals on federally administered lands (NF) for a private special interest group?

      Makes about as much sense as state inflicted self deportation.

      I’m happy to say that the first bison babies I saw this year were outside the park.

      • skyrim says:

        another insane issue came about early tuesday morning around 2:30 AM. This awful high pitched squeel similar to a siren went on up and down highway 191 for who knows how long. I had the pleasure of hosting about 6 cow/calf pairs in the campground that evening worried about them gettting on the highway. They grazed peacefully around the campsight. A couple of hicks came through the campground cruising with no obvious business other than lookouts. I waited for them to draw me out on the issue as I watched carefully but they just observed and finished their re-con and left.
        I’m not going back to Bakers Hole or West until I can resolve this $hit in my head or they stop it altogether.
        What is the bail for a typical Disturbing the Peace and Resisting Arrest charge? Jus’ sayin……..

  5. Jon Way says:

    Kudos to all involved! One small step at a time!

  6. Chuck says:

    I am really surprised nothing bad has never happened to any of those Montana DOL cowboys who have trespassed on private property. Once again good thing I don’t live there.

    • Savebears says:


      In Montana, private property is not absolute, I have experienced it myself. It is unfortunate, that the false threat of brucellosis has been used to validate the trespass on private property, when the actual fight is over grass, and has always been the fight over grass.

    • Elk275 says:


      In Montana Buffalo are considered livestock whether anyone likes it or not. Montana is an open range state. There are negatives and positives to open range. My horse spent the winter on timber company land under open range; it did not cost me any money.

      • Savebears says:

        I have several of the neighbors horses that spend a considerable time in my front yard posing as lawn mowers! LOL

      • Barb Rupers says:

        Elk275, I have appreciated your pragmatic and honest outlook expressed here for some time.

        I would prefer that bison be considered wildlife so that they could be hunted as are other native ungulates and not treated as livestock.

        The fact that you utilize the open range designation in Montana so you can pasture your horse in the winter at no expense on timber land is understandable. No losses due to large predators?

        • Savebears says:


          Many of us that follow the bison issue, have tried for over 20 years to attain wildlife status for bison. The current talks with FWP show a willingness to move that direction, unfortunately, with the fight over grass, it is a difficult, uphill battle to gather support in this state.

          One of the main reason I moved to Montana is the bison and the livestock designation, it is time to overturn and change their designation.

        • Elk275 says:

          Barb, there was 3 horses my gelding and 2 other mares. They had returned to state land in November after a summer of grazing private and R-Y timber company lands. There was enough grass on the state land and no snow so we delay bring them out of the mountains. One day they had other ideas and went back to the top of the Bangtails. Then winter hit and everyone was worry about them, a snowmobile rider saw them in January and a pilot spotted them in early April. All three animals weathered the winter very well and are in excellent shape, it was the best thing for them.

          I was worry about mountains lions but all three returned.

      • Ken Cole says:

        The idea that Montana considers bison “livestock” is a sick joke. I guarantee you that if the DoL was out hazing livestock in the manner that they do that things would be a helluva lot different.

        • Salle says:

          The idea that wildlife is deemed the lowly status of livestock is absurd and obviously a case of the ranching crowd writing policy… you know, like ALEC.


May 2012


‎"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."

~ Edward Abbey