AWR Blog

Alliance for the Wild Rockies Seeks Emergency Injunction to Halt Helicopter Bison Hazing

contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed an Emergency Motion with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday seeking a federal injunction to halt helicopter hazing of bison by state and federal agents. The Alliance contends that the low-level helicopter flights “harm and harass” grizzly bears that are known to use the area in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“This is an annual running battle,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Every spring they haze bison to benefit the livestock industry and wind up harassing grizzly bears in their spring feeding habitat at the bears’ most sensitive time of the year. As long as they keep flying, we’ll keep filing to halt the helicopter harassment.”

The emergency motion follows an Appeal the Alliance filed with the Ninth Circuit last year after Montana Federal District Court Judge Charles Lovell first halted the helicopter hazing, but eventually ruled against the Alliance. At the time, federal agents, which provide the funds to pay for the helicopter, said they would no longer do so, seemingly bringing the controversy to an end. But this year, the Montana Department of Livestock and the federal agents of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have once again turned to the extremely disruptive low-level overflights to haze bison back into Yellowstone National Park.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Garrity of the renewed helicopter hazing. “There is a considerable body of science that proves low-level helicopter flights ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears. Even the National Park Service’s own Report to Congress found that grizzlies ‘never become tolerant’ of low-level helicopter overflights and may ‘abandon’ their preferred habitat because of these flights.”

“The agencies themselves have deduced that such displacement of grizzly bears may cause what is called ‘incidental take’ of grizzly bears — and that it is important to avoid disturbing the bears during the spring bear season from April 1-June 15 when the bears are coming out of hibernation and feeding as much as possible to rebuild their strength.”

“The truly disturbing part of this is that the Yellowstone grizzly population isn’t expanding, it’s contracting,” Garrity explained. “In the period from 2002-2011, Yellowstone grizzly bear rates of fecundity (female bears with cubs) have declined, juvenile Yellowstone grizzly survival rates have declined, the population growth of Yellowstone grizzly bears inside the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone may have ceased. Outside the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, the population of Yellowstone grizzly bears continues to decline and, in 2011, Yellowstone grizzly bears exceeded mortality limits for both male and female adult bears.”

“The strange part about this endless harassment is that both the state and federal government can use much less disturbing hazing operations with riders on horseback, which they do every year. They claim it takes more time, but if they insist on hazing bison back inside the Park’s boundaries, it’s much more compatible with how wildlife — and especially iconic grizzly bears — should be treated in the most famous national park in America.”

“Last year, when Judge Lovell issued a temporary restraining order against the overflights, he found ‘[t]his situation presented serious questions under the Endangered Species Act, the likelihood of irreparable harm, and the public interest and a balance of the equities tipping in favor of the temporary restraining order'” Garrity concluded. “We believe he was correct then and that the same irreparable harm, public interest, and balance of equities continue to exist today. We hope the Ninth Circuit agrees and issues the Emergency Injunction while it considers our appeal to eventually halt the helicopter overflights permanently.”

Read the Emergency Motion here.

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