contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a Helena, Montana, based non-profit conservation group, filed an official 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue under the Endangered Species Act yesterday seeking to halt repeated low-altitude helicopter flights over occupied grizzly bear habitat within the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. The group alleges that the helicopter flights ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Yellowstone grizzly bear, the subject of their grievance, is currently listed as a threatened species under the Act.
“Someone needs to finally stand up for the threatened grizzly bears that are harmed and harassed year after year by these low-level helicopter overflights,” said Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Montana Department of Livestock are ignoring both science and the law in their continued efforts to herd wild bison back into Yellowstone. But if these bears are not protected on National Park lands and National Forest lands in their own recovery area, where will they be protected?”
“We have video footage proving that Yellowstone grizzlies flee in terror when low-level helicopters come into their habitat,” said Garrity. “According to the National Park Service’s own scientific literature review of five different studies, helicopters cause grizzly bears to panic and flee ‘in nearly all cases’ and the bears never become tolerant of helicopters, even with frequent exposure.”
Garrity said the studies also show that grizzlies may actually abandon areas in response to even infrequent overflights. “The consequences of habitat abandonment can be serious, particularly for species like the threatened grizzly bear whose high-quality habitat is already scarce,” Garrity explained. “Accordingly, multiple court decisions have consistently set aside agency actions that allowed low-altitude helicopter use in grizzly bear habitat.”
The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Montana Department of Livestock have publicly stated that the helicopter flights are necessary to haze wild bison back into Yellowstone National Park so that domestic cattle do not contract diseases from the bison. However, there has never been a documented case of disease transmission from bison to cattle in the wild. “It’s a hollow argument,” Garrity said. “The relevant public and private lands in the area do not have any active cattle grazing.”
“We know that private landowners in the area overwhelmingly prefer the presence of bison and grizzly bears instead of the low-level helicopters hovering over their homes and property,” Garrity explained. “And that’s no surprise. Who wants to live where you feel like your home is in a combat zone?”
“Probably the worst part about all of this is that when the government agencies did the environmental analysis of hazing effects for the Interagency Bison Management Plan, they told us, and I quote: ‘hazing operations would cease if there was evidence of grizzlies being active in the area,'” Garrity said. “Yet there are obviously grizzlies active in the area and the video footage undeniably shows them fleeing in terror. So why are these public agencies ignoring both science, law, and their own management plans by continuing their helicopter hazing operations?” “We truly wish we didn’t have to take these government agencies to court to force them to follow the law,” Garrity concluded. “But enough is enough. This has gone on for years and years. Now it’s time to bring it to a halt and that’s just what the Alliance for the Wild Rockies intends to do.”