Victory for wild buffalo in Montana! May 28, 2010
Horse Butte villagers, Earthjustice prevails in lawsuit to keep wild buffalo in Montana
On May 27, 2010 Montana District Judge John Brown ruled against the Montana Stockgrowers who filed suit to remove or slaughter all wild buffalo that remain in Montana after May 15 of each year.
Judge John Brown ruled the Sitz Angus Ranch, Bill Myers, and the Montana Stockgrowers Association cannot obtain the relief they seek because the Montana Dept. of Livestock is not bound by a mandatory legal duty to take the actions requested by the ranchers.
The ranchers sought a court order compelling forced removal or slaughtering of all wild buffalo in Hebgen Lake basin, wintering range and spring calving grounds for buffalo migrating along the Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers from Yellowstone National Park to the Gallatin National Forest.
Judge Brown wrote neither Montana law or the Interagency Bison Management Plan "creates no legal duty mandating" the Montana Dept. of Livestock remove or kill all wild buffalo in Montana.
The ruling came too late for several hundred buffalo inhabiting Hebgen basin that were forcefully removed by Montana livestock inspectors, National Park Service rangers, and Forest Service law enforcement officers over a grueling three week period.
Several female, new born calf and bull buffalo were injured in the 20 mile forced march from Horse Butte peninsula to Fountain Flats inside Yellowstone National Park.
Earthjustice lawyers representing Horse Butte residents Edith Ford, Joanne Mayo, Ed Millspaugh, Tom Sheperd, Ann Stovall, Joann Stovall, Karrie Taggert, and Jeannette Therien, intervened in the rancher's lawsuit to protect their "distinct interests in private property, wildlife conservation, and preservation of habitat outside Yellowstone National Park for bison."
The local villagers, along with the Galanis family owned Yellowstone Ranch Preserve, have long sought to stop the Montana Dept. of Livestock from trespassing on their private property to remove wild buffalo.
Horse Butte peninsula is comprised of 10,000 acres of habitat migratory buffalo have fidelity to - returning year after year for spring green-up on the south facing buttes and rolling sagebrush grasslands and forests overlooking Hebgen Lake and the Continental Divide.
Legal Action Update: Stockgrowers Lawsuit Against Wild Bison
August 4, 2009
On August 4 Montana District Court Judge John Brown presided
over oral arguments in a state lawsuit on the fate of wild bison
Attorney John Bloomquist representing Sitz Angus Ranch, Bill
Myers and the Montana Stockgrowers Association filed suit against
the Montana Department of Livestock claiming that the Interagency
Bison Management Plan obligates all wild bison "be returned"
to Yellowstone National Park "no later than May 15 of each
The two ranchers who truck cattle in to graze seasonally on
leased private pastures are seeking a court order compelling
the slaughter or forced removal of wild bison in the entire
Hebgen Basin, an area that encompasses tens of thousands of
acres of bison habitat including Horse Butte Peninsula where
cattle no longer graze.
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, representing local Horse Butte
residents, argued there is no "legal duty" for the
State of Montana to kill or remove bison by May 15 every year
who have roamed to range outside Yellowstone National Park.
Locals who intervened in the rancher's suit want wild bison
to roam on places like Horse Butte without government harassment.
The locals rightfully claim that their private property interest
in allowing wild bison to be in their neighborhood is not represented,
and that Montana livestock agents trespass and intrude where
they are not wanted.
"The majority of Horse Butte is public land. The National
Forest Service has a responsibility to manage it for wildlife.
We encourage them to do so," says Horse Butte resident
Karrie Taggart, who also heads up Horse Butte Neighbors of Buffalo.
"Since cattle no longer graze there it stands to reason
that bison should be allowed room to roam."
The nonprofit lawyers argue the bison plan is adaptive and Montana
law is permissive in how bison can be managed. They were joined
by Assistant Attorney General Norman Peterson, representing
the Board of Livestock, who asked the court to dismiss the suit
as the ranchers lack standing to sue and are not a party to
the bison plan.
It is unknown when Judge Brown will rule. But stay tuned as
the fate of wild bison to occupy habitat year-round in Montana
hangs in the balance of his decision.
Action Update: Horse Butte Bison Habitat Update February 4,
Attorneys for the Montana Board of Livestock and Earthjustice
recently filed motions to dismiss a second complaint filed
by the Montana Stockgrowers. The stockgrowers claim recent
adaptions to the Interagency Bison Management Plan allowing
bison to roam outside of Yellowstone National Park in Hebgen
Basin violates their constitutional rights to a "clean
and healthful environment".
Board of Livestock Motion to Dismiss (PDF, 366kb, 12 pages)
Motion to Transfer & Dismiss (PDF, 72kb, 16 pages)
The stockgrowers also claim a proper environmental analysis
was not prepared before changes were made to the bison plan.
This is the first season that the State of Montana and several
federal agencies agreed to adapt changes in their bison plan
to allow bison to roam seasonally on Horse Butte peninsula,
a bison wintering and calving ground spread over 9,600 acres
of habitat. (That change was recently underminded by Forest
Supervisor Mary Erickson's decision to renew the Montana Department
of Livestock's permit to operate a bison trap on Gallatin
National Forest lands on Horse Butte for another 10 years).
Earthjustice, representing local Horse Butte residents, argue
there is no "legal duty" for the State of Montana
to kill or remove bison by May 15 every year who have roamed
to range outside Yellowstone National Park. Local residents
who intervened in the stockgrower's suit want wild bison on
private and public lands in the Hebgen Basin without government
The non profit lawyers argue the bison plan is adaptive and
Montana law is permissive in how bison can be managed. They
were joined by Assistant Attorney General Norman Peterson,
representing the Board of Livestock, who asked the court to
dismiss the suit as the stockgrowers lack standing to sue
and are not a party to the bison plan.
Earthjustice also filed a motion to change the court venue
arguing the stockgrowers claim of alleged injury can only
arise in Gallatin County as bison are confined to zones outlined
in the adaptive plan that do not permit them to roam in Madison
County where the stockgrowers complaint was filed.
*Legal Action Update: Horse Butte Bison
Habitat Update January 4, 2009
Stockgrowers motion to amend their complaint (PDF, 2.7MB,
The Montana Stockgrowers recently filed a 12th hour plea with
the court adding another claim to their lawsuit that recent
adaptions to the Interagency Bison Management Plan "allowing
for an increase risk of brucellsis/brucella in the environment
in areas outside of Yellowstone National Park violates Petitioners'
constitutional rights ... to a clean and healthful environment
This is a fundamentally flawed argument as the basis of the
Interagency Bison Management Plan is "adaptive management"
that is the ability to change and adapt to new science and
information gained from experience. In a 2008 report to the
U.S. Congress, the State of Montana and the federal agencies
were roundly criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability
Office for failing to understand and implement adaptive management.
The stockgrowers say the State of Montana and the federal
agencies have a "legal duty" to remove all wild
buffalo "on public and private lands" outside Yellowstone
National Park and inside Montana.
If Montana is to have a clean and healthful environment it
needs to restore wild buffalo in our state. Wild buffalo are
an indigenous wildlife species and have an irreplaceable ecological
role to play in keeping a diversity of native plants and wildlife
on the land, the waters clean, and grasslands healthy.
Let wild buffalo roam Montana!
Action Update: Horse Butte Bison Habitat Update 12/02/08
motion for judgment (PDF, 48kb, 9 pages)
motion for judgment (PDF, 648kb, 20 pages)
to Stockgrowers motion (PDF, 56kb, 11 pages)
December 2008 Update on Montana Stock growers vs. Horse Butte
In May 2008 stock growers in Montana filed suit in Madison
County claiming the Montana Dept. of Livestock and State Veterinarian
Marty Zaluski threaten rancher's cattle that graze in the
Hebgen Basin by not removing or killing wild bison that remain
on Horse Butte after May 15.
Bozeman-based attorneys for Earthjustice intervened on behalf
of long time local residents of Horse Butte who joined the
lawsuit to protect their "distinct interests in private
property, wildlife conservation, and preservation of habitat
outside Yellowstone National Park for bison."
Briefs were recently filed by both parties for judgement from
Attorney John Bloomquist representing Sitz Angus Ranch, Bill
Myers and Montana Stockgrowers Association, argue the Montana
Department of Livestock (DOL) has a legal duty to take action
when bison migrate into Montana and bison are not allowed
"unrestricted access within the state", and that
the Interagency Bison Management Plan has the effect of law
which obligates all wild bison "be returned to YNP [Yellowstone
National Park] by DOL no later than May 15 of each year."
The stock growers are seeking to enforce the deadline in the
"Western Boundary Area" which encompasses tens of
thousands of acres of bison habitat in Hebgen Basin, upper
Sitz Angus Ranch and Bill Myers seasonally graze cattle at
Duck Creek, Red Canyon and the South Fork of the Madison Arm
from early June into October. The cattle are trucked out to
winter on lower elevation ranches owned by the stock growers.
Earthjustice attorney's representing several Horse Butte locals,
Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Natural Resources Defense
Council argue that the Interagency Bison Management Plan "does
not carry the force of law" compelling Montana to remove
or kill wild bison by an arbitrary date, that the bison plan
is adaptive, meaning it can change and is not "fixed
in stone" and that the livestock agency has "discretion"
under Montana law on when and what actions it may take to
"manage wild bison in Montana."
The lawsuit is being heard by Montana District Judge Loren
Tucker who has not yet made a decision. Stay tuned.
Earthjustice Intervention: Local residents intervene
in Stockgrowers suit to prevent harm to wild buffalo on Horse
Brief: Legal brief
filed by Earthjustice to intervene in the Stockgrowers suit.
(PDF, 84kb, 20 pages)
Brief: Montana Stockgrowers complaint suing the Montana
Dept. of Livestock and State Vet Marty Zaluski. (PDF, 2.6MB,
On August 13, 2008 Earthjustice lawyers representing Horse
Butte residents EDITH FORD, JOANNE MAYO, ED MILLSPAUGH, TOM
SHEPERD, ANN STOVALL, JOANN STOVALL, KARRIE TAGGART, JEANNETTE
THERIEN, along with GREATER YELLOWSTONE COALITION, and NATURAL
RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL filed to intervene in the Montana
Stockgrower's suit against the Montana Dept. of Livestock
and State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski.
The Stockgrowers filed suit in Madison County May 2008 claiming
the Montana Dept. of Livestock and State Veterinarian Marty
Zaluski threaten rancher's cattle that graze in the Hebgen
Basin by not removing or killing wild buffalo that remain
on Horse Butte after May 15.
The Earthjustice filing states long time local residents of
Horse Butte joined the lawsuit to protect their "distinct
interests in private property, wildlife conservation, and
preservation of habitat
outside Yellowstone National Park for bison." These folks
simply enjoy seeing wild buffalo on their land and in their
neighborhood village and "benefit from bison grazing
that reduces fire danger and
other ecological disruptions from tall grasses and weeds on
The locals say a long running dispute with the Montana Dept.
of Livestock and its' operations targeting wild buffalo for
removal from Horse Butte - a peninsula where cattle no longer
graze - "are highly disruptive, noisy, and negatively
impacts the ability of these property owners and residents
to maintain a safe and quiet neighborhood."
Horse Butte is a 9,600 acre peninsula of lodgepole pine forest
and sagebrush grasslands with a butte overlooking and bounded
by Hebgen Lake. Hebgen Basin encompasses the upper Madison
Valley drainage which flows into Hebgen Lake.
Along with the Montana Stockgrowers, a lobby arm of the cattle
industry, the plaintiffs include Bill Myers who leases the
Stinnett Ranch near Duck Creek, and the Red Creek Ranch near
the Grayling Arm of Hebgen Lake to graze 200 cow calf pairs,
and Bob Sitz, Sitz Angus Ranch, who sells seed stock and purebred
cattle worldwide and have grazed 300 cow calf pairs on Pat
Povah's Deep Well Ranch along the South Fork of the Madison
River for the past 30 years.
The Stockgrowers complaint states the "failure"
of the livestock agency to "timely" remove buffalo
and to allow buffalo to calve and occupy land in the Hebgen
Lake basin places the ranching families cattle at "greater
risk" of contracting brucellosis and "interferes"
with the use and enjoyment of grazing, and the social and
economic stability of local ranching families depends on brucellosis
free cattle and Montana retaining its status.
The Stockgrowers are seeking a court order forcing the Montana
Dept. of Livestock to remove all wild buffalo in a "timely
manner" by May 15 from the "Western Boundary area"
which includes Horse Butte.
Buffalo Field Campaign supports the locals who want wild buffalo
on their land and is encouraging everyone to sign on to our
letter to the people in charge requesting that the government
stop harming wild buffalo on Horse Butte. Public pressure
is needed and your calls and letters of support for wild buffalo
on Horse Butte can make a difference. Let buffalo roam!