Groups File Notice of Intent to Sue USFWS and for Failure to Give Yellowstone Bison ESA Protections

Today, Western Watersheds Project, Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) and, Friends of Animals (FoA) took the first step to sue the Dept. of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) for failing to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the distinct population segment of bison in Yellowstone National Park in response to two citizen petitions.

“America’s national mammal, the wild bison, is threatened with extinction because of the actions of the agencies entrusted with protecting them,” said Dan Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. “The Department of Interior should base its decisions on the best available science, not political pressure from the livestock industry.”

As set forth in a Notice of Intent to Sue, in issuing a negative 90-day determination on the petitions to list the bison as threatened or endangered, USFWS failed to rely upon the best available science, applied an incorrect legal standard to the petition and ignored the plain language of the ESA, which requires that any species threatened by one or more of five factors shall be designated as endangered or threatened.

“The 4,000 bison in Yellowstone National Park are the only genetically pure bison in a herd of that size in America. It’s an extremely important herd and obviously in a place where they should already be protected,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “But hundreds are slaughtered every year when snow and ice cover the bison’s food and hunger pushes them to lower elevations across the park boundary in Montana. When they cross this arbitrary line, the buffalo enter a zone of violent conflict with the livestock industry.”

“The Yellowstone bison herds are unique in the scope of their genetic diversity and the absence of hybridization with cattle, a problem that besets almost all other bison herds,” added Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project and author of the listing petition. “But instead of allowing these bison to behave like bison and move with the seasons, government agencies are practicing indiscriminate killing that is destroying their genetic diversity. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is the only way to counter these government management inadequacies and other threats.”

Harris pointed out that the USFWS failed to consider the fact that the present and historical curtailment of habitat and range has already resulted in placing the Yellowstone bison at risk of extinction. USFWS deems the population status of the herd to be stable, however under the ESA, the agency is required to not only look at the current numbers of bison, but how much of the bison’s range has already been destroyed and curtailed. Bison historically occupied approximately 20,000 square kilometres and presently only 3,175 square kiometres within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park serve as principal bison habitat.

“There were millions and millions of acres that were available to the bison that are no longer available to them because of human actions. Their range has been curtailed by 90 percent, and that alone should be enough to warrant a listing,” Harris said.

Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals, an international animal protection organization founded in 1957, advocates for the rights of animals, free-living and domestic around the world.

West Yellowstone, Montana-based Buffalo Field Campaign is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to protect the natural habitat of wild migratory buffalo and native wildlife, stop the slaughter of America’s last wild buffalo and advocate for their lasting protection, and work with people of all nations to honor the sacredness of wild

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group with 1,500 members founded in 1993 and has field offices in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Oregon. WWP works to influence and improve public lands management throughout the West with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250 million acres of western public lands, including harm to ecological, biological, cultural, historic, archeological, scenic resources, wilderness values, roadless areas, Wilderness Study Areas and designated Wilderness.

Update: Media coverage of the story.

Wildlife advocates to sue for Yellowstone bison protections. By Matt Volz. Associated Press


  1. Jeff Avatar

    I’m usually in alignment with conservation causes but considering bison have been stable in Yellowstone for years, The Henry Mountain herd, The Book Cliff Herd, Wind Cave, as well as the relocation of yellowstone bison to tribes in NE MT I don’t see them being either threatened or endangered especially given the recent efforts by the feds to manage the genetics of various herds across the west.

    1. Joanne Favazza Avatar
      Joanne Favazza

      Did you read the article?

      1. Jeff Avatar

        yes, am I missing something important?

  2. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    Go get ’em, BFC and WWP!

  3. Craig Avatar

    Yellowstone bison are not threaten with extinction. The Park’s population has been increasing despite attempts to reduce it. There are now satellite populations in 2 areas of Utah and on 2 Montana reservations. There is a pending quarantine program in place to provide a long-term non-letal exit for brucellosis free surplus bison. The population itself does not represent original Yellowstone bison, but instead is a blending of 3 bison herds. Most of the Yellowstone bison were ranch-raised for over a half century and have never been continuously wild or free ranging.

    1. JB Avatar

      That’s right, the population that exists entirely on top of a giant caldera that is due for eruption is not threatened with extinction.

  4. Craig Avatar

    The Endangered Species Act does not consider things on a geologic time scale. Yellowstone bison are located in at least 4 herds outside of the Park. They are not threatened with extinction.

    1. JB Avatar

      No, the ESA only considers risks that are “foreseeable” (this distinguishes threatened from endangered). A few years back a federal court had occasion to consider what “foreseeable” means in the context of the ESA. Intuitively, the court concluded that if we can foresee it happening, then it is foreseeable. (BTW, the caldera is bigger than the park.)

  5. Craig Avatar

    Geologic events are not reasonably foreseeable. If they were, no one would live near YNP, and a lot more wildlife species would be threatened with extinction.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      I dunno. What do actuaries have to say for home owners insurance around mountains like Ranier, and others in that range of “dormant” volcanos?

  6. Craig Avatar

    We live within the blast zone of the Yellowstone caldera should it erupt again. This is not a factor in our home owner’s insurance. There could be 40,000 bison in YNP and if there is a catastrophic eruption there would be no more surviving bison than if they were only at their current level of 4,000. The present number of bison is well above a minimum viable population level.

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