Judge Halts Helicopter Bison Hazing to Protect Yellowstone Grizzlies

Above is a video from the Buffalo Field Campaign of a recent helicopter bison hazing operation.  The video clearly shows the Montana Department of Livestock’s helicopter hazing bison – and other wildlife, including grizzly bears – on Forest Service land, as well as private land surrounding Yellowstone National Park.  According to BFC, in this specific taxpayer-funded helicopter hazing incident, buffalo were hazed for nearly eight hours, up to ten miles on a hot, dry day, with no rest or water; no grazing, nursing or breaks were offered.

Below is the press release from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in response to the judge’s restraining order:

After hearing arguments at earlier today, Federal District Court Judge Charles C. Lovell granted the Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to halt the use of helicopters to haze bison back into Yellowstone National Park.  The Alliance successfully contended that the low-level overflights harassed grizzly bears in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“We’re overjoyed at the ruling,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  “It’s well-known science that low-level overflights by helicopters ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears in violation of the National Forest Planning Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act,” Garrity said.  “The Yellowstone grizzly bear is currently listed as a ‘Threatened Species’ under the Endangered Species Act and the Yellowstone bison-hazing flights over occupied grizzly bear habitat are within the designated Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone.”

“We provided Judge Lovell with video footage proving that Yellowstone grizzlies flee in terror when low-level helicopters come into their habitat,” Garrity added.  “According to the Forest Service’s and National Park Service’s own scientific literature review, helicopters cause grizzly bears to panic and flee ‘in nearly all cases’ and the bears never become tolerant of helicopters, even with infrequent exposure.”

The helicopter hazing operation began last Thursday by state and federal agents.  According to Yellowstone Park spokesman Dan Hottle, the hazing was “overly aggressive” and pushed more than 320 bison a full two miles into the park.  The Park had requested that no more than 150 bison be hazed at any one time and that they be allowed to graze on the way. “We just wanted to get their heads pointed in the right direction, let them learn their surroundings and let them be bison,” Hottle told reporters last week.

Park managers also sent a request to Governor Brian Schweitzer asking him to suspend all hazing operations for the remainder of the week, but the state continued the helicopter hazing on Friday and testified that they would continue such operations in the future.

The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council also passed a resolution on May 1st asking Governor Schweitzer to immediately cease harassing wild buffalo, allow them to return to summer ranges by following their own instincts in their own time, and urging the U.S. government and State of Montana to recognize their trust responsibility to Treaty obligations to provide for viable populations of wild, migratory buffalo in their native habitat.

“Grizzlies once occupied an area from Canada to Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean,” Garrity said.  “Now their territory is limited to small, isolated parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho basically, National Parks and Wilderness Areas.  The helicopters cause the grizzlies to flee from their habitat into areas where they are much more likely to be killed.”

Judge Lovell’s Order says:  “It is hereby ordered that Defendants, and each, all, and any of them are hereby temporarily restrained from conducting further bison helicopter hazing operations in the targeted Hebgen Basin area pending further order of this Court.”

3 thoughts on “Judge Halts Helicopter Bison Hazing to Protect Yellowstone Grizzlies”

  1. David: RE: an adolescent notion of “management.”

    I got this email Tuesday evening from a Buffalo Field Campaign activist who’s right there on the frontline witnessing Montana Department of Livestock’s every move in the bison hazing operations. This is what they witnessed yesterday, the day after the helicopters were grounded by the court ruling. Ask yourself if this is really how wild bison should be treated when they are on national forest lands.

    “Today, we saw how the spoiled rotten Montana Department of Livestock children take it out on the buffalo when they don’t get to use their favorite toy [helicopter]…. They were super aggressive and had overkill representation of cowpokes who pushed baby buffalo to collapse…. tomorrow, they’ll be back again.”


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