Agency May Have Destroyed Files from $13,000,000 Land Conservation Agreement in Yellowstone
For Immediate Release:
Monday, May 2, 2005
More Media Information
Dan Brister, Buffalo Field Campaign (406) 646-0070, dan"at"wildrockies.org
Bozeman, Montana - The Gallatin National Forest removed and may have destroyed public records in a $13,000,000 land conservation and wildlife protection agreement in Yellowstone.
Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), a nonprofit bison advocacy group located near West Yellowstone, has sought the files through the Freedom of Information Act since June 2004. The group is researching land use within the Yellowstone bison herd's native and historic range.
"The Forest Service violated their public trust responsibility by removing records we had been seeking under the Freedom of Information Act," says Dan Brister, Buffalo Field Campaign. "The American people spent over $13,000,000 to protect habitat for native wildlife. The Forest Service's action has cast a shadow over the public's right to know how this agreement is being implemented."
The Gallatin National Forest blocked BFC's access to its Royal Teton Ranch files in late February, and sometime in March, removed documents from the public record.
The group was informed March 30 by Bob Dennee, Lands Staff for the Gallatin National Forest, that he had removed files from the Royal Teton Ranch project record at the agency's offices in Bozeman and Gardiner. Files on the $13,000,000 land conservation and wildlife protection agreement may have been destroyed.
"The Gallatin National Forest removed public records after they refused to let me see them," says Darrell Geist, a research consultant with Darrell Geist & Associates. "I spent a day and a half trying to get access in Bozeman which the agency refused to provide. Officials in the Bozeman office then canceled a visit I had arranged with the District Ranger in Gardiner to review public records on the land agreement."
After the Gallatin Forest blocked access to the files in February, the agency told the group that they would have to reschedule another visit weeks in advance.
"When I returned in March to see the Royal Teton Ranch files, I was told by the Gallatin Forest that public records had been removed from files kept in Bozeman and Gardiner," adds Geist. Buffalo Field Campaign has asked Becki Heath, Forest Supervisor for the Gallatin National Forest, to account for how the public records were removed, and to retrieve them if they have not been destroyed or cannot be recovered.
Taxpayer funding for the $13,000,000 land conservation and wildlife protection agreement was appropriated by Congress to acquire and protect 6,770 acres of land just outside Yellowstone National Park along the Yellowstone River in Montana. The land is situated in one of the largest migrations of native ungulates in North America including elk, bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope. Habitat is also present for threatened species including grey wolves, grizzly bears, bald eagles and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
The Gallatin National Forest has yet to issue a response on what the agency did with the public records.
Buffalo Field Campaign has asked Senator Max Baucus for assistance in recovering and disclosing the public records removed by the Gallatin National Forest.
Online Resources: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/media/foiadispute.html
1) Letter to Gallatin Forest Supervisor Becki J. Heath asking the agency to cease removing public records from the Royal Teton Ranch project files (April 5, 2005)
2) Letter to Senator Max Baucus asking his office to assist in publicly disclosing Gallatin National Forest records (April 27, 2005)
3) Fact Sheet on Royal Teton Ranch
4) Fact Sheet on Devil's Slide
5) Color map of Royal Teton Ranch and Devil's Slide land conservation agreement