MISSOULA, MONTANA: Buffalo Field Campaign filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal court against the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The lawsuit was filed on Friday, March 9, 2012.
The buffalo advocate's Freedom of Information lawsuit says APHIS has:
- Engaged in an illegal pattern and practice of delaying and denying release of public records;
- Unlawfully withheld public disclosure of requested records;
- Repeatedly missed statutory deadlines for producing requested records (20 business days);
- Inappropriately extended deadlines for reviewing records sought (10 additional business days when "unusual circumstances" exist); and
- Failed to make available to the public a telephone line or Internet service that provides information about the status of a public records request.
“The Freedom of Information Act is a powerful tool for the public to shed light on what the government is up to,” says Darrell Geist, habitat coordinator for Buffalo Field Campaign. “APHIS has thwarted public disclosure for too long and that is not going to be tolerated.”
Since May 2011 Buffalo Field Campaign has been seeking records from APHIS concerning bison population control experiments, births and deaths, welfare of bison held in quarantine and associated costs, funding agreements with the Montana Dept. of Livestock, and reports tracing sources of brucellosis in Montana cattle.
APHIS is a federal livestock overseer and funds the Montana Department of Livestock's participation in the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan. APHIS has lead a bison quarantine program and is currently conducting a bison population control program to experimentally use a chemical sterilant/hormone disrupter - GonaCon - on bison captured from Yellowstone National Park. Wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their historic range, and the 3,700 bison that make up the so-called Yellowstone population are America's last continuously wild herds.
“There is little to no public oversight by the U.S. Congress on how APHIS is spending taxpayer money to gain control over America's last wild buffalo,” says Daniel Brister. Executive Director for Buffalo Field Campaign. “Without access to public records, APHIS continues to operate in the darkness.”
Buffalo Field Campaign is seeking court relief compelling APHIS to:
- Promptly provide all information through immediate disclosure of records sought;
- Prohibit agency practice of failing to properly follow the Freedom of Information Act and promptly respond by providing records to requests;
- Prohibit agency practice of failing to properly invoke the "unusual circumstances" exception;
- Provide public access to a telephone or Internet-based tracking system; and
- Award attorneys fees and costs.
“When Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act, it recognized that citizens serve as a vital check against improper or unethical government action,” says attorney Daniel C. Snyder of the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C., the firm representing Buffalo Field Campaign. “The records requests that Buffalo Field Campaign provided to APHIS were intended to further that purpose, as they sought the disclosure of public documents containing the agency's rationale and justifications for what appears to be an improper population control study. Rather than comply with the public records requests, however, APHIS skirted its Congressional mandate of full and timely disclosure. The buffalo advocates have exhausted their attempts to access government records and now stand ready to have their day in court.”
The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies like APHIS to "establish a telephone line or Internet service that provides information about the status of a request to the person making the request using the assigned tracking number, including (i) the date on which the agency originally received the request; and (ii) an estimated date on which the agency will complete action on the request." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(7)(B). To date, APHIS has not set up such a system.
Buffalo Field Campaign is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone's wild bison, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor the sacredness of wild bison. Buffalo Field Campaign has its field headquarters in West Yellowstone, Gallatin County, Montana, and an office in Arlee, Montana and is supported by people around the world who value America's native wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend, and enjoy the natural wonders of our National Parks and Forests.
More information can be found at www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/legal/aphis_bison_population_control.html