by Michael Garrity, guest columnist, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
The Bozeman Chronicle recently editorialized against the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for filing a lawsuit to stop helicopter hazing of Yellowstone grizzly bears. While the Chronicle certainly has the right to editorialize, its readers deserve a chance to weigh the issues for themselves after hearing both sides of the story.
The Chronicle called the Alliance “overzealous environmentalists hell bent on obstructing the effort” to “tolerate bison and wolves within its borders as valued and permanent parts of its wildlife spectrum.” Nothing could be further from the truth. To support its claims, the Chronicle cited a General Accounting Office report that found the Alliance challenges more Forest Service logging projects than any group in the nation. Significantly, the Chronicle failed to disclose that we win about 85 percent of those cases. Simply put, we file lawsuits – and win them – because the government is breaking the law. Clearly, our successful record protecting grizzly bears, lynx, elk, bull trout, wolves, and old-growth forests is what has drawn the ire of those who want to obstruct our efforts.
Likewise, the Chronicle claims: “The extensive litigation that knotted up wolf management has already prompted Congress to take the unprecedented action of legislating wolves off the endangered species list through a budget bill rider.” The truth of the matter is that we won the wolf case in court because a federal judge ruled that the Endangered Species Act does not allow delisting based on political boundaries; instead delisting must be based on science. It was Montana’s own Sen. Jon Tester who slapped a rider on an unrelated appropriation bill to undermine this completely valid and logical court ruling. But again, rather than hold Tester accountable for his “unprecedented action,” to delist an endangered species with a rider on a must-pass budget bill, the Chronicle chose to blame the Alliance because it won a federal court decision based on science and law.
The record is clear on the effects of low-altitude helicopters on grizzly bears. Had the Chronicle’s editorial writers bothered to read the briefing filed by the Alliance, they would have seen that the National Park Service’s own literature review of five scientific studies concluded that “grizzly bears … never became tolerant of aircraft, despite very frequent exposure.” Likewise, the Forest Service has acknowledged that “[g]rizzly bears have been noted to panic and flee areas from over-flights in nearly all cases where they have been observed.” The briefing also cited multiple court decisions that have consistently set aside agency actions allowing low-altitude helicopters in habitat for threatened grizzly bears. It’s a matter of scientific studies and precedential legal rulings, not opinion.
The Chronicle also failed to note that grizzly bear alerts had been issued by the Forest Service for the very areas where the helicopter hazing was scheduled to occur. Instead, the Chronicle made up its own “facts” and concluded, without a shred of proof, that “there will be scant few bears, if any, that will even hear the helicopters, much less suffer heartburn over the hazing activity.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of our nation’s citizens to challenge government decisions in court. Montana is blessed with an incredible legacy of wildlife and wildlands. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies will not hesitate to exercise our First Amendment rights to go to court when that legacy is threatened. Our members expect us to fight hard for the future – and that’s just what we do.
Michael Garrity is executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies in Helena.