Ruling hailed as win for Yellowstone bison
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FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2002

A federal judge on Thursday raised doubts about the continued slaughter of bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park in a ruling that was praised by tribes and environmentalists.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina put a halt to cattle grazing on 2,000 acres of public forest land next to the park, citing the government's failure to comply with federal law. The preliminary injunction forbids the presence of cows until the U.S. Forest Service becomes compliant.

The decision was a victory for the Intertribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC) and environmental groups that oppose federal policy towards the Yellowstone bison, descendants of the last free-roaming herd in the country. Under a joint state-federal management plan finalized during the Clinton administration, livestock officials in Montana are allowed to shoot bison that leave park boundaries and enter lands where cows graze.

Urbina's order doesn't end the practice, in which nearly 200 herd members out of 3,000 have been killed this past year for fear that bison will transmit brucellosis, a deadly disease, to cattle. His adoption of a court official's report, though, that questions its practicality represents a major step forward, according to the coalition challenging the policy.

"Now the state of Montana has no basis for killing bison on public lands," said Michael Scott, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, one of the groups, along with ITBC and Earthjustice, involved in the case.

In the report, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola noted the government's failure to conduct a proper environmental analysis that would take into account the effect of grazing on the bison. Citing conflicting federal documents, he suggested officials were "intentionally delaying" a review in order to wait for the more stringent management plan, which was adopted in December 2000.

"[T]he Forest Service failed to initiate, let alone complete," the analysis by 1998, the agency's own deadline.

He also agreed that striking down the cattle permits would have an impact on the slaughter of the animals, considered sacred to tribes and viewed as a treasure by the public. "At the very least, closure of the allotment to livestock grazing would significantly reduce the need for hazing and killing of bison," he wrote.

In response, government attorneys raised objections to the report. But Urbina overruled all of them in his order yesterday, which the Forest Service is pledging to abide. An environmental review is expected in 2004.

Bison were once plentiful in the Plains before non-Indian exploitation reduced their numbers to mere dozens. "The buffalo were slaughtered in the 1800s to destroy the food supply of the Native American people and to make room for European cattle," said Fred DuBray, executive director of the ITBC, which represents 51 tribes throughout the country.

"It is a tragedy that slaughtering buffalo is still government policy today."

Related Documents:
Urbina Injunction (5/29) | Facciola Report (5/13)

Relevant Links:
Intertribal Bison Cooperative -
Greater Yellowstone Coalition -
Earthjustice -
Montana Department of Livestock -
Yellowstone National Park -

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