Court Rules Bison Can Roam
Until just recently, Bison were the only native wildlife species that were still unnaturally confined to the political boundaries of Yellowstone National Park for any part of the year. In the year of 2008, more than 1,400 bison (about one-third of the current size of Yellowstone’s bison population) were captured and slaughtered by government agencies while leaving Yellowstone in search of food due to the severity of the winter.
But this week a Montana judge ruled to allow the bison to migrate freely across 70,000 acres outside Yellowstone National Park. Now they’ll be able to roam freely without threat of being hazed or slaughtered.
In February 2012, the Federal and state agencies that were responsible for cooperatively managing bison around Yellowstone National Park decided to allow bison seasonal access to important winter and early spring habitat growth outside the north boundary of the park. This took place in the Gardiner Basin area and was to be allowed until May 1 every year. This important decision opened up critical foraging lands for the bison and other grazing animals during a period when higher elevations in the park still lack spring grasses.
However, the Park County Stockgrowers Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and Park County, Montana, sought to block implementation of the new policy in two lawsuits filed in May 2011. The lawsuits would require state officials to adhere to outdated plans for bison hazing and slaughter. They also raised concerns about the potential for bison to infect cattle with brucellosis.
But the judge's decision this week rejected the challenger's lawsuits and upheld the new policy. The decision followed five days of trial during which many Gardiner Basin residents voiced their support for bison tolerance in the area.
Matt Skoglund, a wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council commented that, “Today’s decision is excellent news for native wildlife in Montana. Many changes in the past decade have set the table for greater tolerance of wild bison from Yellowstone in Montana, and it’s great to see this ruling uphold a good step forward by the State of Montana.”
The NRDC and other conservation organizations are also committed to continuing their work with government agencies and private landowners to help mitigate potential conflict areas outside of Yellowstone where bison should have more room to roam and be treated like Montana’s other wildlife.