Federal District Court issues injunction stopping Stonewall Timber sale that threatens lynx habitat

Mike Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406 459-5936

Federal District Court issues injunction stopping Stonewall Timber sale that threatens lynx habitat

The Federal District Court in Missoula on Tuesday issued a Preliminary Injunction sought by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council against the Helena – Lewis and Clark National Forest, stopping the Stonewall Timber sale located about 4 miles northwest of Lincoln, Montana, that was to begin June 1st.

“It’s very difficult to get a preliminary injunction against the federal government,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies explained. “The Court only issues them if it determines the pending lawsuit has a high degree of being successful on the merits.”

Expressing exactly that confidence, the Ruling stated: “…the Court is ultimately persuaded that an injunction is appropriate at this juncture due to Plaintiffs’ representations that the entire Project area is within designated occupied and core lynx habitat, as well as lynx critical habitat. Because this Project is located at the heart of lynx habitat, any revisions to the Lynx Amendment resulting from consultation could have profound repercussions upon the species.”

“The law is clear,” Garrity explained. “The Forest Service is not allowed to go ahead with logging in critical habitat when at the same time it is consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if logging is harmful to lynx critical habitat.”

The Forest Service project area entails 24,010 acres, authorized logging on 2,113 acres, prescribed burning on 2,755 acres, bulldozing in a mile of new logging road and rebuilding and/or doing maintenance on another 31.5 miles of logging roads. “Moreover, the Forest Service estimated the project will cost taxpayers a rather stunning $972,000,” Garrity continued. “All to subsidize a logging project in the heart of critical habitat for lynx, which were listed in 2000 as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act.

“Once again the Forest Service is showing that the agency puts subsidized, industrial logging ahead of taxpayers and protecting public land and wildlife, which are owned by all Americans” Garrity continued. “It makes no sense for the Forest Service to sacrifice dwindling lynx habitat to subsidize the timber industry with a timber sale that will lose nearly a million dollars – especially since the agency continually claims to be severely underfunded.”

“American taxpayers, conservation advocates, and lynx are the winners here,” Garrity concluded. “It’s never any fun to go to court, but unless conservation organizations stand up for future generations and demand government agencies follow the law, we will absolutely lose our nation’s precious land and wildlife legacy.”

Please find the Court’s Order HERE

Donate for TV ads to stop yellowstone bison massacre

We are racing to stop the immediate and unnecessary slaughter of wild bison in Yellowstone National Park. We are putting up billboards and running ads on local television in Montana encouraging people to call Governor Steve Bullock who has the power to fight back against the livestock industry’s misguided lobbying efforts.

I need your help to pay for more advertising time so we can reach a critical mass of supporters calling the governor. Ads on Montana television are fairly inexpensive so your money will go a long way. But we have to act quickly.

Check out our GoFund Me campaign and donate whatever you can as soon as possible. https://www.gofundme.com/saveyellowstonebison2017

Why is this happening? Bison are migrating out of Yellowstone in search of food on public lands just like they have done for thousands of years. The livestock industry does not want bison to eat the grass that they think should only be reserved for cows so they put political pressure on the State of Montana and Yellowstone Park to slaughter bison.

These industry lobbyists are using a bogus argument with no scientific proof to sway the Governor and push their agenda. Governor Bullock has the authority to stop this but he won’t unless he gets enough pressure from citizens.

Bison are being rounded up right now and by the end of April it will be too late. Please donate today. Thank you!

Alliance for the Wild Rockies Lawsuit Forces Federal Agencies to Consult on Dams in Bull Trout Critical Habitat

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed suit in federal court in Portland, Oregon against the Army Corp of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation in July 2016 for failing to complete consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for federally-operated dams in bull trout critical habitat.  Today the Court dismissed the lawsuit after the agencies reinitiated consultation.

Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “We are thrilled that the agencies finally did what they were suppose to so in 2010 which was to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that these dams don’t harm bull trout critical habitat.”

“We are looking into the potential substantive violations of the ESA as a result of reinitiating consultation,” Garrity continued, “and will determine if the changes made (if any) are sufficient to ensure that critical habitat is not harmed.” 

Garrity added, “It took six years after the designation to get the federal agencies to reinitiated consultation.”

Garrity continued, “The goal of our lawsuit was to force the Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration and Army Corps of Engineers  to reinitiate consultation on hydroelectric projects operating on bull trout critical habitat and it worked.”

The suit alleged a procedural violation of the ESA: the agencies failure to reinitiate consultation for projects on critical habitat.  Bull trout critical habitat was designated in 2010. Upon that designation, the Endangered Species Act required the Federal Agencies to reinitiate consultation on the operation and maintenance of their dams on bull trout critical habitat. In essence, they were required to ensure that the operation of the dams did not adversely modify bull trout critical habitat.

Garrity said, “After the lawsuit was filed, the Defendants reinitiated consultation on the dams thus, today the Court dismissed the law suit as moot because Alliance got the relief we requested. A court may only dismiss a case as moot if Plaintiffs have received what they asked for.”

Garrity concluded, “Our next step here will likely be reviewing each of the dam’s Environmental Assessments to determine if there are substantive violations of the ESA. That, however, would be a separate action from this one.”< Bull trout are already extinct in California, inhabit only one stream system in Nevada, and are “at high risk of extinction in Oregon, Washington, and parts of Idaho” according to the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, which also found “Montana bull trout are considered secure in only 2 percent of the stream segments they inhabit.”  They were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1998 and in 2010 “critical habitat” for the imperiled fish was designated throughout the Columbia River Basin. The Endangered Species Act required that the Army Corp of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the dams they manage in bull trout critical habitat to ensure that agency operations will not result in the destruction or adverse modification of bull trout critical habitat. The effected dams are Libby, Dworshak, Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor, McNary, John Day, The Dalles, Hungry Horse, Albeni Falls, Grand Coulee, Chief Joseph, Bonneville, Cougar, Dexter, Lookout Point, Hills Creek, and Blue River dams in the Columbia River Basin. Click here to view a PDF version of the order.

Contact: Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406-459-5936

Stop the Yellowstone Massacre of Bison

This week billboards went up west of Bozeman on the highway leading to Yellowstone National Park and in Helena near the state capitol building asking Governor Bullock to “Stop the Yellowstone Massacre.” This is the headline message overlaying a stark winter landscape covered with bloody, dead Yellowstone buffalo.

“It’s a collaborative effort to recognize and manage Yellowstone buffalo as wildlife, not livestock,” said Bozeman artist and environmental activist Steve Kelly. “Working with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies is rewarding for me because they’ve always stepped up to resist extreme government violence against nature and wildlife, generally, and wild Yellowstone buffalo in particular.”

The billboards’ sub-headline reads: “Call Gov. Bullock – 406-444- 3111.” “Gov. Bullock has the executive power to stop the Yellowstone buffalo slaughter,” Kelly added. “If enough people call we’re hoping he’ll listen and act responsibly.

The Alliance and Kelly have been perennial critics of APHIS (Animal and Plant Health InspectionService)-USDA for its dominant role in the killing of Yellowstone buffalo, for funding junk-science, propagandizing the issue, and pandering to the livestock lobby. “APHIS is a “captured” federal agency using brucellosis as a weapon against the good people and wildlife of Montana and Yellowstone National Park,”

Kelly concluded. “It’s time to end their “Reign of Terror.”

Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “The Montana Governor has stopped this slaughter before with an executive order where he prohibited the transportation of buffalo across Montana for slaughter.  It is time for Governor Bullock to step up and do the right thing.”

Conservation Groups Challenge Blackfoot Timber sale that threatens elk, grizzly bear and lynx habitat

Two conservation groups, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, filed suit in Federal District Court in Missoula Friday challenging the Stonewall Vegetation Project in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest about 4 miles northwest of Lincoln, MT. The conservation groups contend proposed changes to eliminate Big Game Security and Thermal Cover standards in the project violate a number of federal laws and threaten the area’s elk herd as well as grizzly bears and lynx.

“The Forest Service decision authorizes logging on 2,113 acres, prescribed burning on 2,755 acres, bulldozing in a mile of new logging road and rebuilding another 9 miles at a cost to taxpayers of $972,000,” explained Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

“Once again the Forest Service is showing that they put industrial logging ahead of taxpayers and protecting public land,” Garrity added. “It makes no sense for the Forest Service to sacrifice elk, lynx, and grizzly bear habitat to subsidize the timber industry with nearly a million federal taxpayer dollars.”

As Garrity pointed out, FWP informed the Forest Service during the travel planning process for the Blackfoot area that “[a]lthough elk populations have generally increased in hunting districts that include Helena National Forest land since adoption of the 1986 [Helena National Forest] Forest Plan, the number of elk that spend summer and fall on the Lincoln Ranger District (LRD) have not. . . . FWP recommends that land managers provide enough secure habitat during fall to meet annual bull survival objectives while maintaining general bull harvest opportunity. . . . Neither public land populations nor bull ratios in the Lincoln valley have increased despite the near elimination of antlerless harvest opportunity and the adoption of spike-bull harvest restrictions.”

“Montana’s big game management agency also warned that due to the loss of public forest cover, elk are now spending more time on private lands, which causes conflict with land owners as well as increasing the difficulty of managing the herd size due to loss of hunting opportunities on public lands.” As Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists told the Forest Service during travel planning: “The number of elk that spend the majority of the year on some nearby private lands has increased dramatically between 1986 and 2013. FWP has consistently urged the [Helena National Forest] to increase functional fall habitat security on the Lincoln Ranger District . . . .”

“The Forest Service did not comply with the Montana Elk-Logging Study Recommendation for Road Management as required by the Forest Plan,” Garrity explained, pointing to the requirement that states: “Where maintenance of elk habitat quality and security is an important consideration, open road densities should be held to a low level, and every open road should be carefully evaluated to determine the possible consequences for elk.”

“On this proposal, the Forest Service also violates the agency’s own rule, which prohibits open road density over 0.55 miles/square mile in occupied grizzly bear habitat,” Garrity added. “Currently the open road density in occupied habitat across the Forest is actually 0.95 miles/square mile and they want taxpayers to pay for bulldozing more new logging roads. According to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, roads are one of the ‘most imminent threats to grizzly habitat today.’”

“The Federal Government is also violating the lynx amendment to the Forest Plan,” Garrity continued. “While the lynx amendment allows logging in the Wildland Urban Interface, it also defines the Wildlife Urban Interface to be within one mile of communities. The Project does not comply with this limit because it remapped the WUI to include areas up to four miles away from Lincoln.

View the complaint here: .Stonewall complaint filed 2.17.17

Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears get day in court

By ROB CHANEY rchaney@missoulian.com

Originally published in The Missoulian here.

Whether grizzly bear numbers in northwest Montana are stable, shrinking or growing, both sides of a lawsuit over their federal status agree there aren’t enough of them.

But lawyers for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the U.S. Government could not agree why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service switched its recommendation from “warranted but precluded” for more protection under the federal Endangered Species Act to a designation indicating the bear population was close to recovery. The two sides argued before U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula on Thursday.

Rebecca Smith of the Public Interest Defense Center represented AWR, and argued the federal agency was breaking a 20-year position – that the Cabinet-Yaak bears deserved more protection – by suddenly announcing it was lowering the bear’s status.

On Dec. 5, 2014, FWS “abruptly changed course and published a finding that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear is ‘not warranted’ for listing as an endangered species,” Smith wrote in her brief to Christensen. “The agency’s conduct also indicates that the agency has no intention to recover or provide critical habitat for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear, but instead intends to play administrative keep-away with the necessary protections for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear for as long as possible, possibly until the population simply goes extinct.”

The Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem is one of four grizzly bear recovery zones in and around Montana, and the smallest with an active bear population. The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each contain more than 800 grizzlies, while the Bitterroot Ecosystem has no known bears although it’s historically prime grizzly habitat.

Smith argued that between 2007 and 2014, grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak dropped from 47 bears to 41 – a 13 percent decline. FWS’ minimum population necessary for recovery in the 2.4-million acre region is 100 bears.

Department of Justice attorney Ricky Turner represented the Department of Interior and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Turner agreed Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies haven’t reached recovery. But the population has moved from the brink of extinction to threatened status, and their numbers have been stable or growing in recent years.

“I’m not impressed with the numbers here,” Christensen warned. “There’s been slight improvement, but we’re still talking about 44 to 48 bears. I’m not as enthusiastic about those numbers as you are. Maybe you can change my mind on that.”

Smith and Turner interpreted the same trend in opposite ways. Smith insisted that with fewer than 50 bears, the loss of one or two females could turn a stable population into a falling one. Turner maintained that the Fish and Wildlife Service was the agency in charge of the science, and if it said the trend was good, Smith hadn’t offered anything to prove it wasn’t.

Christensen added that both sides seemed to be avoiding “the elephant in the room” – the chance that changing the grizzly’s status might require a designation of critical habitat. Currently, the Cabinet-Yaak bears’ status doesn’t require FWS to make such a designation, which would require any other land manager to consider the bear’s needs before making any changes such as a timber sale, road construction or mine expansion.

Smith replied the critical habitat requirement would occur – if FWS got the funding to move the grizzly from its “warranted but precluded” status to actual “endangered” status. She said the whole crux of the case was the agency’s position for 20 years that the bear deserved more protection, before reversing course in 2014 and declaring it needed less.

“Even if what they say is true, they’re using the exact same facts for either conclusion,” Smith said. She called that the definition of “arbitrary and capricious.”

Turner countered that the grizzly’s original “threatened” status was made before the agency adopted a new policy mandating critical habitat designations, so that should not be an issue. He also argued that Smith was calling for a new interpretation of the science, which was the agency’s job.

Christensen did not rule on the matter after Thursday’s hearing.

25 bison to be sent to Corwin Springs; slaughter to resume

By Michael Wright Chronicle Staff Writer
Originally published in the Bozeman Chronicle here.

Call Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381 Tell them to stop slaughtering Bison. Call MT Gov. Bullock, 406-444-3111

After about two weeks of uncertainty, 25 bison inside corrals at the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park will still have a shot at being sent to a tribal reservation and the annual slaughter program will be allowed to resume.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock sent a letter to Yellowstone National Park on Thursday lifting a ban on shipping bison to slaughter after the state and federal agencies struck a deal to move 25 bull bison to corrals near Corwin Springs.

The letter came two weeks after Bullock blocked the transport of any bison to slaughter facilities in Montana. That decision was over a group of 40 bison the park originally wanted to send to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Fifteen of the 40 will be slaughtered, but the other 25 bison may eventually be destined for Fort Peck.

“The parties have committed that these animals will be quarantined and safeguarded until they are ready for shipment,” Bullock wrote in the letter.

Yellowstone National Park spokeswoman Jody Lyle said the Parks Service is pleased with the deal “because it’s the first step in implementing a quarantine program.” She also said she wasn’t sure when they would be able to transfer the bison to the corrals, but she said it would happen “at some point in the near future.”

Regular bison slaughter operations will be allowed to resume. The park has caught about 400 bison in its trap near the park’s northern border. Lyle wasn’t sure when shipping would begin, but that they would try to make it happen “as soon as possible.”

About 5,500 bison live in Yellowstone. The animals migrate into Montana each winter, and livestock officials and producers worry they could transmit brucellosis to cattle. Brucellosis can cause cattle to miscarry, but no case of bison transmitting the disease to livestock has been documented in the wild.

A 2000 bison management plan rooted in the fear of brucellosis calls for a population of about 3,000. Each year, officials try to bring the population closer to that number through hunting and slaughter.

This year, they plan to kill as many as 1,300. About 300 have been taken by hunters so far this winter.

Last year, Yellowstone National Park proposed sending some bison to Fort Peck for quarantine, a process by which they can be deemed brucellosis free. Officials set aside a group to be used for the program while they were trapping bison last winter. They tested the animals for brucellosis regularly, and the 40 they held onto consistently tested negative.

But the proposal never received final approval because of a state law that requires bison be certified brucellosis-free before they are transported through Montana, so park officials had decided to send the 40 bison to slaughter.

Bullock sent the park a letter in mid-January blocking the transport of bison into the state until they could find a way to preserve the bison for Fort Peck. After two weeks of negotiations, the parties reached the deal announced Thursday.

Connect with the Chronicle on Facebook for the latest news, links and more.
The 25 bulls will be sent to corrals controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the other 15 — all females — will be sent to slaughter.

Mike Honeycutt, the executive officer of the Montana Department of Livestock, said that decision was made because female bison are a bigger risk for spreading brucellosis because the disease is primarily spread through afterbirth. If one of the females is infected and aborts a calf, all the animals would be at risk.

“There’s a potential there that they are pregnant and there’s a potential that they could abort,” Honeycutt said.

He said the Corwin Springs corrals — where APHIS is researching a bison birth control drug — also had limited room. Bison will be moved around there to accommodate the 25 bulls, but they couldn’t find room for the 15 females, which would likely have needed a separate corral.

He also said the quarantine time would be shorter for bulls than females, and that it’s possible the 25 bulls could be sent to Fort Peck after about a year.

Dennis Jorgensen, a senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund, said in an emailed statement that while his group is pleased the 25 bison won’t be slaughtered, they hope the different agencies will find a way to allow a tribal quarantine program to proceed.

“This temporary measure still leaves Yellowstone with no alternative but to ship bison to slaughter in coming years when thousands of bison will need to be culled just to keep current numbers in check. We ask that the same parties who made a deal today continue the discussion until a long-term solution is reached,” Jorgensen wrote.