Judge Halts Rule that let Bison Roam More Freely

By Beacon Staff

LIVINGSTON – A Park County judge granted temporary restraining orders Wednesday to halt state agencies from allowing bison to roam into parts of Montana from Yellowstone National Park.

The Livingston Enterprise reports District Judge Nels Swandal issued the orders at the request of Park County and the Park County Stockgrowers Association.

The judge says that until further legal proceedings occur, government agencies are prohibited from implementing changes made this spring to a federal-state bison management agreement.

Those changes allowed bison to roam into parts of the Gardiner Basin where they previously had been prohibited because of worries over the animal disease brucellosis. Most of the animals have since gone back into the park or been captured to keep them out of the basin.

A May 25 hearing is scheduled in two lawsuits over the issue.

The Stockgrowers Association contends that giving bison more room to roam will make it harder to manage brucellosis risks for cattle. The group also says the changes circumvented proper environmental reviews.

Park County’s complaint focuses on safety risks for citizens from roaming bison.

“Large numbers of bison now regularly congregate at school bus stops and other locations, interacting with children, elderly, and other individuals that live in the area to a degree not previously encountered,” the county’s complaint says.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional supervisor Pat Flowers said the agency this spring has fielded more calls than normal related to trouble with Gardiner-area bison. But he attributed the increased numbers of reported problems to the animals seeking habitat outside Yellowstone due to a harsh winter in the park.

The agency’s chief legal counsel, Bob Lane, said the department believes it acted responsibly and within the parameters of the federal-state agreement.

“The program has been pretty carefully developed, and we don’t see that there are any problems with what’s been done,” Lane said.

The complaints filed by the Stockgrowers Association and Park County also ask that the court require government agencies to address the issue of bison in the Gardiner Basin on a longer-term basis and outline different strategies for future management.