MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) - The federal government has slaughtered 3,500 bison in and around Yellowstone National Park since 2000 and is managing forests for the benefit of cattle ranchers by keeping what remains of native bison herds from their natural habitat, environmental groups claim in Federal Court.
The Western Watersheds Project and others claim in Federal Court that the Secretary of the Interior and his agencies refuse to consider new information about bison and their association with brucellosis or to include the animal in a management plan for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Bison are not even mentioned in the plan, which is a "conspicuous and capricious" failure to comply with federal mandates to protect the health of plants and animals in national forests, the suit states.
Plaintiffs, including the Native Ecosystems Council and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation, say plains bison are being prevented from fulfilling their "ecological role" as a "keystone" for the diversity of plants and animals in the region, including providing support for the dwindling sage grouse population and providing food sources for birds, gray wolves and grizzly bears.
The National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service have bowed to arguments from Montana's livestock industry that wild bison will transmit brucellosis to their cows. The bacterial disease causes weight loss, abortion and reduced milk production.
But the environmentalists say that according to the latest science, the possibility of transmission from bison to livestock is very low in a natural setting and separating the groups is unnecessary. They say that the documented cases of brucellosis were most likely caused by elk, not bison.
The groups say the Park Service has ignored this information but has participated in "bison hazing" by setting bison traps, building fences to prevent migration and by "lethal bison removals."
The groups want an end to bison killings until the agencies complete a full analysis of bison management.
The groups are represented by Summer Nelson with the Western Watersheds Project.
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