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Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign

A lawsuit brought by Buffalo Field Campaign, Friends of Animals, and Western Watersheds Project against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for their faulty "not substantial" 90-day finding on our petition to list the bison population in the Yellowstone area as threatened or endangered, received a hearing last Thursday, January 18, 2018 in a Washington DC District court.

Lawyers from Friends of Animals, Michael Harris and Elizabeth Rasheed, ably represented the groups in a hearing before DC District Judge Christopher R. Cooper. The argument before the court revolved around the differing standards used for a 90-day finding and for a 12-month finding. One of the central questions in the hearing surrounded whether there is disagreement among scientists about whether there are significant threats to Yellowstone area bison. We argue that because there is a significant disagreement that the USFWS should find that bison may be warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign

Our petition (PDF) argues that, under all five listing factors identified in the Endangered Species Act, the Yellowstone distinct population segment is under threat of extinction. The threats we identify in our petition include range curtailment/low dispersal on the landscape, threats from livestock grazing, threats to habitat from development and infrastructure, harm caused by invasive species (in addition to livestock), negative impacts from recreational and scientific uses, disease, predation, inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms, genomic extinction, and, last but, certainly not least, climate change. It is clear to us that the range of the country’s last wild, migratory bison herds have been profoundly reduced considering that wild bison occupy less than 1% of their historic range, and that their low numbers, combined with ongoing government mismanagement and intolerance, are having severe negative impacts on the genetic health and behavior of the wild bison in the Yellowstone area.

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Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign

Reports back from our lawyers and BFC supporter Joan Bundy, who attended the hearing, were positive. Each felt that the judge asked good questions of the government’s lawyers. It’s hard to read the tea leaves in these kinds of situations, but we felt that the hearing went well and we are hopeful the judge rules in our favor and remands the decision back to the USFWS. That’s the best we can hope for in this case. The judge can’t just say that bison may be warranted for protection and tell them to proceed to gather information for a 12-month finding because, under the Endangered Species Act, that is the job of the USFWS.

A Big thanks to Joan Bundy for attending the hearing and giving us a quick report back, to the lawyers from Friends of Animals for representing us, and to Western Watersheds Project for putting together such a good Endangered Species Act petition.

Stay tuned!

With the Buffalo,
Ken Cole
BFC Executive Director