Federal Agency Turns Over Bison Hazing Documents

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has turned over its analysis on the effects of hazing bison back into Yellowstone National Parks on threatened grizzly bears after a conservation group sued for the information.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy dismissed the Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ lawsuit on Monday and awarded the alliance $3,531 in attorney fees and costs.

Attorney Rebecca Smith of the Public Interest Defense Center filed a complaint on behalf of the conservation group in May asking Molloy to rule that the federal agency acted illegally by not responding and by failing to produce the requested documents.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year rejected the alliance’s request to block the annual spring hazing of bison from Montana into the park to make way for cattle to graze. The alliance says helicopters used to haze the bison cause grizzlies, a federally protected species, to panic and flee from their habitat.

In April, the alliance requested the file for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s analysis on the effects of the hazing on grizzly bears in the area. The group asked for the final analysis and backing documents, along with all correspondence and meeting minutes regarding the analysis.

An employee with the federal agency acknowledged receiving the letter but the agency never made a determination on the request or handed over the documents, even though the federal law requires a government agency to make a determination on the request within 20 business days, according to the complaint.

The law allows a 10-day extension in some cases, but the federal agency failed to meet that deadline, too, the complaint says.

On Aug. 2, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Smith filed notice that the Fish and Wildlife Service had complied with the document request and that both sides were asking Molloy to dismiss the case.

Bison migrate from the park to lower elevations in Montana in the winter, but a federal-state agreement requires their return to the park in the spring. Montana officials, led by the state Department of Livestock, have hazed bison from public and private land in southwestern Montana since 2000.

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