Helicopter Invades Ecosystem, Infuriates Residents; Private Property Rights Ignored

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign (406) 646-0070

West Yellowstone, Montana - On Monday, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS) and Gallatin County Sheriffs Department conducted a major bison hazing operation on private and public lands. Using horses, ATVs, trucks, and a helicopter, agents harassed members of America's last wild herd of buffalo and infuriated area residents.

There are no public lands cattle allotments on Horse Butte or along the Madison River where buffalo commonly migrate in spring. The majority of the bison hazed yesterday were newborn calves and their mothers, animals that pose absolutely no risk of transmitting brucellosis. Five bull buffalo--animals that also pose no risk of transmitting brucellosis--were chased across private property with a helicopter without prior warning to residents or respect for the homeowner's private property rights.

The majority of West Yellowstone area residents appreciate the presence of wild buffalo and post "Buffalo Safe Zone" signs along their property boundaries to inform the DOL and other agents that bison are welcome and the agents are not. The DOL frequently ignores the rights of private property owners.

Dave Martinez, a homeowner in Upper Bear Trap housing area, located less than a mile from Yellowstone National Park, remarked on yesterday's hazing operation, "This is getting out of control. We've got kids running around here and the agents drive their big trucks through looking for bison, not paying attention to us. I don't need my kids seeing bison being harassed. It's all totally unnecessary and we're all sick of it."

Governor Schweitzer's office received numerous phone calls from upset West Yellowstone residents yesterday. Numerous residents were outraged by the use of the helicopter over their homes, and are growing more impatient with the DOL's bison harassment activities. When asked why the DOL was hazing buffalo from private land where they are welcome, Hal Harper, the Governor's Chief Policy Advisor said, "The agreement, the understanding we had was that the helicopter would be used for spotting and necessary hazing."

"Hazing buffalo with a helicopter through neighborhoods and disrespecting the rights of property owners is hardly necessary," countered BFC's Stephany Seay, who documented yesterday's operations. "It's a wicked display of power, a major safety hazard, and a waste of taxpayer money for the DOL to terrorize wild buffalo moms, newborn calves and the homeowners who enjoy co-existing with them."

May 15 marks the DOL's "zero tolerance" date for wild bison outside of Yellowstone National Park, according to the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Regardless of this politically derived date, Montana never shows tolerance for wild bison, who are always subject to hazing, capture, slaughter, quarantine or shooting. Livestock interests fear wild bison may transmit the cattle-disease brucellosis to livestock. However, there has never been a confirmed case of a wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle. Bulls, yearlings, calves and non-pregnant buffalo pose no risk of transmitting brucellosis, while pregnant bison pose only a theoretical risk. Elk--animals also infected with brucellosis--are free to roam Montana and neighboring states.

"Where are the cows? I don't see any cows around here," continued local resident Dave Martinez. "I live here because I love this place, I love the bison, and DOL is pushing people to their limits."

Nearly 1,000 native wild buffalo have been killed during the 2005-2006 winter under management actions carried out by the Montana Department of Livestock (59) the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (40), and the National Park Service (853+). More than 3,400 native wild bison have been killed by the agencies in the past ten years.

The Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, every day, to stop the slaughter of the wild Yellowstone buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo and their native habitat and advocate for their lasting protection. Daily patrols stand with the buffalo on the ground they choose to be on and document every move made against them.