(CN) – The federal culling of Yellowstone bison herds threatens genetic diversity and long-term survival prospects, a federal complaint calling for emergency measures alleges.
Friends of Animals and Buffalo Field Campaign sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Jan. 15 in Washington, D.C.
Under the Interagency Bison Management Plan to control disease, the U.S. government has authorized the killing of at least 900 bison.
The plaintiffs claim that the measure is unnecessary since there has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle.
“This is a profoundly tragic event,” BFC spokeswoman Stephany Seay said in a statement. “These buffalo are a national treasure, a native keystone species beloved the world over, and are the most important bison population in the world. Yellowstone should be preventing harm to the buffalo, not bending over backwards for cattle interests by participating in their destruction.”
Meanwhile the government has allegedly delayed acting on an emergency petition that the groups submitted last year to protect the genetic diversity of the bison herds of Yellowstone National Park and Gallatin National Forest.
“The current management of bison in Yellowstone National Park is inconsistent with the National Park Service’s Organic Act (and relevant agency policies and guidance), which contains wildlife conservation requirements,” their complaint states. “Specifically, the IBMP [Interagency Bison Management Plan] allows for the disruption of the bison’s natural movements, has unacceptable impacts on bison.”
Studies published after plan’s adoption allegedly show that there are two genetically distinct bison populations in Yellowstone that need a minimum of 2,000 members each to preserve genetic diversity and ensure their survival for more than 200 years.
“The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and/or others plan to capture and slaughter, or otherwise remove, bison from the ecosystem during the winter/spring of 2015,” the complaint states. “Such actions, absent safeguards such as those proposed in the Emergency Rulemaking Petition, could damage the viability of the bison herds and cause long-lasting, irreparable damage to the herds.”
Snow and ice cover push the bison to lower elevations every year, and they become fair game any time they cross the boundary in Montana, according to the complaint.
Friends of Animals (FoA) said that 653 bison were killed last year in the cull.
FoA’s wildlife law program Mike Harris said in a statement: “We want to make sure that each herd has a viable population number so that we are not starting to degrade the species. … The petition asked that the federal agencies responsible for protecting these animals make an effort to establish stronger scientific criteria to protect the viability of the remaining Yellowstone herds, and to stop slaughtering the last 4,000 genetically pure bison left in the United States.”
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