Feds Decline to Adopt Protections for Yellowstone Bison

This photo taken in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo., shows bison in Yellowstone National Park on Jan. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Brown)

(CN) – The federal government has decided there will be no review of the Yellowstone National Park bison to be considered for federal protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Thursday.

From 2005 to 2014, the park’s bison herds declined rapidly from a population of 3,531 to 1,400, according to a trio of environmental groups who sued the federal government in May to request the animal be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

That complaint filed in federal court in the District of Columbia included the Buffalo Field Campaign based in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Campaign coordinator with the nonprofit Mike Mease said over the phone the federal agency’s decision to not provide any type of review for the bison is upsetting.

“I would expect nothing less from this administration. They’ve been trying to dismantle the Environmental Protection Act,” Mease said. “In the 23 years I’ve been watching the bison, I’ve seen how inches have been gained to be given to their habitat. That’s what this issue is screaming for: tolerance and habitat. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

In 2014, the Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign petitioned the federal government to give the Plains bison in and around Yellowstone National Park federal protection. A second petition was filed in 2015 by an individual and by January 2016 the federal agency said the petitions “did not provide substantial scientific or commercial information” for a review of the bison population.

A lawsuit was filed by the Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign under the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act that the agency’s determination was made hastily. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper remanded the case, finding in 2018 that the FWS failed to thoroughly evaluate the petition and thus acted arbitrarily in issuing a rejection.

On Thursday, the agency filed its unpublished decision to not initiate a status review of the bison.

Montana director and public policy consultant Josh Osher with Western Wastersheds Project said it appears the FWS is ignoring Cooper’s ruling based on the preliminary statement.

In their May 2019 complaint, the environmental groups claimed the failure to grant the request would cause “irreparable ecological harm” to the bison’s natural habitat and the study of bison in the park. They argue the bison play a “keystone role” in the Great Plains ecosystem and are imperiled by hunting and livestock grazing, infrastructure and climate change.

The claim also states that when bison wander outside the Yellowstone boundaries in migratory winter months, Montana state agencies may slaughter the animals in accordance with state plans for bison management.

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