Failure to list Yellowstone Bison generates lawsuit by 3 conservation groups

The Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) have filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) for failing to provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the distinct population (comprised of at least two herds) segment of bison in Yellowstone National Park in response to two citizen petitions.

“What an insult to the American public that the wild bison, who was named our first national mammal in May, continues to be slaughtered because of pressure from the meat industry and ranchers grazing their doomed cattle and sheep,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “These herds are obviously in a place where they should already be protected.”

The 4,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park are the only genetically pure bison herds of that size in America. 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 cattle and sheep ranchers.

“Protection under the Endangered Species Act is needed to counter these management inadequacies and to get state and federal agencies to address the threats these bison face,” added Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project and author of the listing petition. “Instead of allowing these bison to behave like bison and move with the seasons, government agencies are practicing indiscriminate killing that is reducing their genetic diversity.”

The lawsuit states that 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.

Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program, points out that USFWS failed to consider that the curtailment of habitat has already resulted in placing the Yellowstone bison at risk of extinction. USFWS deems the population status 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 bisons range has already been destroyed. 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 cattle and sheep ranching. Their range has been curtailed by 90 percent, and that alone should be enough to warrant a listing,” Harris said.

“America’s national mammal, the wild bison, is threatened with extinction because of the actions of the agencies entrusted with protecting them,” added 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.”

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Here is the petition itself. “Petition to List the Yellowstone Bison as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act” by Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign. It was presented in November 2014.



  1. monty Avatar

    The majority of winter range, adjacent to Yellowstone & federal forests, is in private ownership. What is the bison winter carrying capacity on the federal lands? Where do the “excess” bison go?

  2. Kyle Avatar

    Excess bison? With a population in the thousands, there are no excess bison. And any carrying capacity thus far determined by scientists working for the beef industry is a ruse.

    The solution is to immediately and finally remove all physical and administrative barriers to bison migration onto all public lands in the GYA. Folks who’ve set up their hobby horse ranches in the area will eventually learn to enjoy seeing wild bison tromping their gardenias and Kentucky bluegrass the way nature meant it to be. Long past time we do something for the bison and let the beef industry dangle.

    Excess bison? What nonsense! Makes it sounds like a zoo.

  3. monty Avatar

    EXCESS BISON was a poor choice of words. I would like to see millions of bison on the land but in the short term it isn’t going to happen. So my question remains: what is the estimated bison carrying capacity on federal lands in the Yellowstone ecosystem?

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      And if it’s a matter of carrying capacity, aren’t there plenty of other areas that would like the ‘excess’ to come to them (and not for consumption)? Heck, sending them ‘back East’ is better than killing…um, culling… them. It’s a resource, like any other

      1. rork Avatar

        I think you know there are brucellosis worries that would make cow owners (and their states) have fits.

        monty: is a start. We have debated that at length here in the past – not that I was one of the experts.

        1. Kyle Avatar

          The carrying capacity issue seems like a false one, a ruse to dominate the discussion. The capacity issue is totally shaped by what lands bison can be allowed to graze as a result of disease concerns. If we’re going to review carrying capacity, let’s be sure to include cattle in the calculation.

          Right about the brucellosis worries rork, but what evidence is there of transmission in the wild? I’m not aware of a proven case where bison have transmitted brucellosis to cattle in the wild. State/fed scientists have no evidence. In fact the “worry” is manufactured, illusion, baseless. So why does it persist? The beef industry and Montana state officials constantly use brucellosis as a scare tactic and it remains embedded in the IBMP. Pushing back against the scare tactic and propaganda is critical to change the institution. Plus all cattle grazing in GYA public lands should be terminated immediately and forevermore. Those lands should support wild grazers only.

          1. rork Avatar

            Mark was talking about transporting bison. They are trying to keep contact low near Yellowstone, and that may help.

    2. Connie A. Reppe Avatar
      Connie A. Reppe

      Excess bison, unknown. The natural life cycles of wildlife takes to long for federal and state(s) to study and manage at a cost. Though, if you could imagine the years of 1600s-1700s the vision of bison, is natural. As preschool and high school educational studies of predominately white classes, are not taught in today’s modern times of the legends, and historical history of the Great Plains American bison on the western frontier of ID, MT and WY. Likely because for reasons of applied agricultural management methods, that has been basically engrained as teachings, for over one-hundred fifty years. And in part of the uneducated is the popularity of associations to be in association of the others that receive federal funds to maintain state standards, politically and, economically. And those of whom as a majority, disfavor the American bison, a long lived life of an existence, roaming naturally. Brutality, and ignorance takes many, many main and side roads to auto dealerships, Burger King, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, a sportsmen’s-women’s association, and money raising raffles to help the local economy of the unincorporated townships, is business economics in naming just a few. Yellowstone NP! there will always be a need for binoculars and, the forewarned mentioning of… “did you hear” what happened the other day! Brutality and ignorance is a trending repeat for tomorrow, for wherever you go, though it’s only faster than of the storied history of the Great Plains American bison, as of one-hundred fifty years ago.

  4. Craig Avatar

    The fact that there are no documented cases of bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle is probably because the 2 species have been separated in time and space. It probably is an indication that the current management program is effective from the disease management standpoint.

  5. Kyle Avatar

    A good point Craig, but I’d like to see some evidence of that. I mean if transmission does not or cannot occur (an extremely remote risk shall we say) then wouldn’t that raise a fundamental question about “disease management” or the need for it? The “probably” issue merely perpetuates the disease management excuse.
    Can’t we just get the “one species” out of the area entirely and thus eliminate the issue entirely? What percentage of annual US beef production originates from the GYA? A percent, a tenth of a percent? We’re continuing to put the last wild bison in harm’s way because of this completely misguided notion that a handful of cattle have their “rights” to graze on land where bison need to be.
    Absolute madness, scientific and political folly. Shameful and unethical.


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Ralph Maughan