Greens Want Protection for Yellowstone Bison

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Conservationists claim in federal court that the U.S. Department of the Interior’s refusal to list bison as endangered threatens the animal’s dwindling population at Yellowstone National Park.
     The western United States was once filled with millions of wild American bison, which played a key part in the region’s ecology and sustenance for Native American people.
     Today, there are about 30,000 wild bison left on public lands, according to the Smithsonian Institution, and conservationists have fought to protect the remaining population.
     Buffalo Field Campaign, Western Watersheds Project and Friends of Animals sued government officials in Washington D.C.’s federal court on Monday over the decision to not list Yellowstone’s bison as threatened or endangered.
     The intentional killing of bison in Yellowstone, through both hunting and management culling, has significantly reduced the animal’s population, the groups say in their lawsuit.
     “Given the relatively small size of the Yellowstone bison population, the loss of bison associated with intentional killing is significant,” the groups say. “For example, during 2007-2008 alone, hunting and culling removed at least 1,716 Yellowstone bison. More than 1,000 bison were also killed during 2005-2006. And, it is estimated that in 1996-1997, culling of Yellowstone bison removed 57 percent of the entire Northern subpopulation and 20 percent of the Central subpopulation.”
     The genetic makeup of bison has been significantly altered by human activity like farming, and the groups say the decision to not list bison as threatened or endangered will further “pos[e] a potential harm to the genetic qualities and diversity that make these bison so unique.”
     The bison in Yellowstone are “the last remaining population of genetically intact bison in North America,” the groups say, and unlike most of the living population in the U.S., they still naturally migrate.
     The animals are often killed for food or culled by government agencies to prevent the spread of disease to cattle, but there have not been any documented case of bison spreading brucellosis, according to the lawsuit.
     Brucellosis, an infectious disease, is found in a number of species, such as elk, but the government has not implemented a similar management plan for elk, which “freely roams the same range where bison are destroyed, despite elk being implicated in transmitting brucellosis to cattle,” the complaint states.
     The unique genetic makeup of the Yellowstone bison’s subpopulations was not considered before the government approved plans to kill them, according to the groups.
     Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director Daniel Ashe are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
     The conservationists seek a court order finding the government violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by not listing the bison as threatened or endangered. They also want a new finding issued within 60 days.
     The groups are represented by Michael Harris with Friends of Animals in Centennial, Colo.

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