The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully denied a petition to protect a segment of Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act, Friends of Animals, along with the Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign, said in a complaint filed in federal court Monday.
The groups claim that FWS applied the wrong evidentiary standard, and disregarded evidence of factors that imperil the unique and distinct subpopulations of bison roaming the northern and central ranges of the Yellowstone ecosystem when it declined to launch a status review on whether to list the bison.
FWS’s finding also ignored U.S. District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper’s previous order that petitioners’ evidence must be credited and the government cannot “simply pick and choose between contradictory scientific studies.”
The groups are asking the court to reverse FWS’s unlawful finding and order a species status review for Yellowstone’s imperiled bison herds.
In 2018, Judge Cooper ruled that FWS had illegally denied ESA protections for a segment of the Yellowstone bison population. The ruling had overturned FWS’s negative 90-day finding that concluded there was not substantial information supporting the need to protect the bison under ESA.
“The fact that this was FWS’s second attempt at reviewing and assessing the overwhelming evidence that supports listing the Distinct Population Segment of Yellowstone bison as endangered or threatened makes its current violations of the ESA particular egregious,’’ FoA Wildlife Law Program Legal Director Mike Harris said.
The wild bison of the Yellowstone ecosystem are the world’s most important bison population in existence. They are the last continuously wild, migratory bison to exist on their native range since prehistoric times. Fewer than 4,000 exist today due to a government plan, the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which is heavily influenced by Montana livestock interests. Since late-February 2020, more than 800 of these bison —nearly 18% — have been eliminated through slaughter, quarantine, and hunting. Bison, who are the country’s national mammal, are a sacred, keystone species. Federal protection under ESA will ensure a future for this iconic mammal and will help them realize their evolutionary potential.
“It’s long past time for the service to make a reasonable and justifiable determination about whether these bison deserve protections under the ESA,” said Western Watersheds Policy Director Josh Osher. “While the service continues to produce politically motivated responses that are not in compliance with the court’s clear direction, bison are being killed at an alarming rate that could jeopardize their future health and existence.”
FWS has 30 days to answer the wild buffalo advocates’ complaint in court.
Read more about FoA’s efforts to protect the bison here.