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Bison Hazing by Helicopter Sparks Lawsuit

By Melanie J. Martin - 19 May 2011 14:33:1 GMT
Bison Hazing by Helicopter Sparks Lawsuit

A plan to haze bison by helicopter to drive them back into Yellowstone Park has sparked a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed the lawsuit against the Forest Service on Wednesday, March 18, in a federal court in Missoula, Montana. The Forest Service plans to begin the hazing next week to force roughly 300 bison off cattle grazing land.

The environmental group believes the hazing could cause grizzlies, which are threatened under the Endangered Species Act within the lower 48 states, to flee. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has cited five National Park Service studies showing that helicopter hazing almost unfailingly causes grizzlies to flee, says Eve Byron in Helena's Independent Record.

Prime grizzly habitat has already grown scarce, and the environmental group believes the hazing will push grizzlies into less ideal habitat.

Continual harassment from helicopters could also disrupt their habits and affect their health.

With only around 1,000 grizzlies left in the lower 48 states, and Yellowstone providing one of their last viable habitats, the group believes the hazing violates the Endangered Species Act.

Some local residents also oppose the helicopters because they find the noise extremely disrupting, as the helicopters can descend up to 10 feet off the ground, says the Alliance's executive director Mike Garrity

Ranchers' fears that bison could spread the disease brucellosis to cattle has fueled efforts to drive buffalo out of cattle grazing lands.

Brucellosis can lead to miscarriages and infertility. A 2009 study in the Journal of Applied Ecology found the risk of transmission from bison to cattle to be extremely low.

However, concerns persist because 50 percent of Yellowstone's buffalo have been exposed to brucellosis, and researchers have difficulty documenting its transmission in the wild, says the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Image Credit: © Melissa Schalke