Activist Convicted of Blockading Yellowstone's Wild Bison Trap
Comfrey Jacobs, the young man who blocked an access road to Yellowstone National Park's Stephens Creek bison trap in March, plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge—interfering with an agency function—at a change of plea and sentencing hearing on June 20. Jacobs appeared before federal magistrate judge Mark Carman in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming at Mammoth Hot Springs in the Park. The judge dismissed two other charges that had been filed against Jacobs (disorderly conduct and violating a bison management closure), but rejected the sentence Jacobs and the government had agreed to in a plea agreement.
The agreement would have had Jacobs serve seven days in jail, and one year of unsupervised probation with a ban from Yellowstone National Park for the duration. Jacobs also had agreed to pay $355 as restitution, the actual cost to the Park Service of removing him from the blockade. Instead, the judge sentenced Jacobs to three years of unsupervised probation with a ban from the Park, the $355 restitution, plus a $500 fine and what was titled a "community service payment" of $2,500 to a Yellowstone National Park-affiliated foundation.
The community service payment was a suggestion pressed by the U.S. government, and accepted by the judge after learning that Jacobs had received financial support from the public. This aspect of the sentence is being challenged in a motion to correct the sentence filed by Jacobs through his attorney, Summer Nelson.
"The intent of my action was to shut down Yellowstone's capture-for-slaughter operations of the world's most important wild bison population," Jacobs said, "I was successful, and that's why I plead guilty."
Jacobs said he was aware that there would be repercussions for his actions, but felt strongly that he needed to draw attention to what Yellowstone National Park and affiliates within the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) are doing to America's few remaining wild bison, so that they are held accountable for their role in the bison slaughter, which has lead to the decimation of America's last wild bison population.
"We all make sacrifices for the things we love and believe in," said Jacobs after the hearing. "My actions and punishment are my sacrifice for these amazing and majestic animals. My hardships are nothing compared to the constant suffering the buffalo are put through during capture, slaughter, hazing, and all of the harmful operations carried out under the Interagency Bison Management Plan."
Wild bison are currently managed under the highly controversial state, federal and tribal Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), which is heavily influenced by Montana's livestock industry. The IBMP allows for the government shooting and hazing (chasing) of bison from their native Montana habitat, a lengthy late-season harvest, and capture for slaughter and research.
American citizens and others world-wide have have largely opposed the actions carried out under the IBMP.
"I believe year-round habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Montana is the solution for wild bison population management, not genetically damaging and limiting the herds with slaughter and constant harassment and abuse through hazing operations," Jacobs said. "I hope my action was effective in raising public awareness on this issue."
The wild bison of Yellowstone are among the most significant bison populations in the world and the last continuously wild bison to exist in the U.S. Currently, wild, migratory bison are ecologically extinct throughout their historic range with fewer than 4,200 existing in and around Yellowstone National Park. They are the only bison to hold their identity as a wildlife species. North America's largest land mammal, wild bison are a keystone species critical to the health and integrity of grasslands and prairie ecosystems. The zero-tolerance bison politics of Montana's livestock industry are driving the policies that are pushing these significant herds back to the brink of extinction.
"We deeply thank Comfrey Jacobs for taking this brave and selfless action," said Dan Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. "We have always strongly opposed the slaughter and abuse of wild buffalo and applaud non-violent civil disobedience when other means of public participation have been exhausted and ignored."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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