Yellowstone National Park has begun bison capture operations at its Stephens Creek facility near the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner.
The park’s announcement drew immediate condemnation from bison supporters and one group took the opportunity to sue the Park Service and Forest Service over the bison management plan.
Friends of Animals filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday in an attempt to force the agencies to revisit the plan in light of new science about herd size and genetic viability. The group had filed a rulemaking petition, but Mark Harris, of Friends of Animals, said the agencies “basically blew us off.
“Now we’re forcing them to respond to our rulemaking petition,” he said.
He added, “We are considering the possibility of an injunction, as well as all other legal options, to prevent NPS from continuing to kill or participate in the killing of Yellowstone National Park bison immediately until they revise the Interagency Bison Management Plan to reflect the best available science on Yellowstone bison herd numbers and genetic viability.”
Members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan agreed to an operating plan that targets the removal of 800 to 900 bison that migrate out of the park’s northern boundary this winter to reduce population growth and to reduce the potential for a mass migration of bison into Montana.
“Bison are wildlife and should be managed as such,” said Jonathan Proctor, of the group Defenders of Wildlife. “Wholesale slaughter of these genetically valuable animals simply because they leave Yellowstone National Park looking for food is archaic and driven by policies that treat them like livestock.”
Federal, state and tribal members of the IBMP have agreed to use hunting as the primary method for removing bison from the population. This winter, hunting in Montana is expected to remove up to 350 bison from the population, while an additional 500 to 600 animals that leave the park boundary may be captured and transferred to tribal groups for processing and distribution of meat and other parts to their members for nutrition and cultural practices.
“These buffalo are a national treasure, a native keystone species beloved the world over, and are the most important bison population in the world,” said Stephany Seay, of the group Buffalo Field Campaign, in a statement. “Yellowstone should be preventing harm to the buffalo, not bending over backwards for cattle interests by participating in their destruction.”
For safety reasons, the area around the Stephens Creek facility is closed to the public until further notice. A map and information on the closure is available for public review during normal business hours at the superintendent’s office, the chief ranger’s office and the temporary visitor center in Mammoth Hot Springs.
In 2000, the secretaries of agriculture and interior and the governor of Montana signed a court-mediated agreement that included guidelines to limit the bison population in Yellowstone to around 3,000 animals. The removal of bison from the northern breeding herd during each of the next several winters will progress toward that guideline.