by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has filed a lawsuit trying to stop state and federal officials from using helicopters to haze bison into Yellowstone National Park, arguing the tactic also harasses grizzly bears.
“We have video footage from last year showing a Yellowstone grizzly bear fleeing in terror from one of these low-level helicopters,” said Michael Garrity, director of the environmental alliance. “And, according to the National Park Service’s 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.”
The Montana Department of Livestock is leading the hazing operation, which is intended to keep bison off Gallatin National Forest land north of West Yellowstone where private ranchers graze cattle. The department argues bison pose a risk of passing brucellosis to domestic cattle.
The hazers usually work on horseback, but have used helicopters to herd bison. Some private landowners in the area have refused to allow the horse riders permission to cross their property to reach the national forest land where the bison are wintering.
Yellowstone Park spokeswoman Linda Miller said this year’s hazing has begun, but no helicopters have been used yet. Department of Livestock personnel did not return requests for comment on Wednesday. Helicopter activity was expected to begin next week.
AWR’s lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service is separate from a 60-day notice to sue that the group filed last week over bison hazing. That case would involve Endangered Species Act arguments which require advance warning to the defendants, Garrity said. Wednesday’s suit accuses the Forest Service of violating the National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act by harming and harassing grizzlies in the Yellowstone Grizzly Recovery Zone.
Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula.