The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Slaughter of Up to 900 Wild Bison at Yellowstone Park Sparks Federal Lawsuit to Protect First Amendment Rights
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Jamie M. Woolsey of the law firm Fuller, Sandefer & Associates and two constitutional law professors filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of journalist Christopher Ketcham and wild bison advocate Stephany Seay, who are seeking access to Yellowstone Park's controversial bison trapping operations that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of bison. The lawsuit argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park.
The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on Feb. 15, 2016. Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park
The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on Feb. 15. During the capture and kill operation, the park service closes parts of the park to public access.
“It's ironic that to benefit Montana ranchers grazing their cattle—an invasive species—Yellowstone Park has agreed to facilitate the capture and killing of 900 American bison, an iconic, native species," Law Professor and ALDF Attorney Justin Marceau said.
Past accounts of similar bison killing operations have provided evidence of brutal treatment of the animals. The centerpiece of the park's role in the slaughter is the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, which is located entirely within the national park. The bison are driven into the facility, held in pens, tested and eventually forced into trucks and transported to slaughter. In recent years, the park service reversed its previous policy that allowed members of the public to witness and document the operation—the park service itself shot video and photographs—and now proposes to offer only three supervised tours, including one when the trap facility at Stephens Creek was not in operation.
Yellowstone's public information office also used to offer information on how many bison were captured, shipped to slaughter or injured each day. During the past two bison kills, however, the park delayed release of that information for two weeks.
“If the First Amendment right of access is to mean anything," Marceau went on to say, “it means that citizens and journalists should have reasonable, non-disruptive access to their publicly-funded national park to observe and memorialize one of the most controversial uses of national park land imaginable."
“No one wants their federal tax dollars to be used by park service rangers to abuse and kill the very animals the service is responsible for protecting," Seay said. “The park service doesn't want the public to see these shameful activities."
Ketcham has written about the bison controversy for VICE, Harper's and other magazines and websites. “I want full access to the operations," he said, “so I can effectively report on the issue. I want to be able to see the suffering of these animals up close and thus bring readers up close."
Although there were once tens of millions of bison throughout most of North America, today wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their native range, with fewer than 5,000 living in and around Yellowstone National Park, the last continuously wild, migratory herds left in the nation. The animals are currently managed under the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan; thousands of bison have been abused and killed through hazing, hunting, scientific experiments and capture-for-slaughter operations.
The purported reason for the enactment of the plan is that bison threaten to infect local cattle populations with brucellosis, a non-fatal disease originally brought to North America by European cows. Wild bison, however, have never transmitted the disease to cattle. In fact, no transmission from bison to cattle has ever occurred outside of a laboratory setting.
“Denying access to the park during this controversial publicly-funded wildlife slaughter campaign is very similar to the intent of ag-gag laws," ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “Such laws 'gag' would-be whistleblowers, journalists and activists by making it illegal to record and disseminate photos or footage taken in agricultural operations. ALDF has successfully proven ag-gag laws are unconstitutional under the First Amendment and we are confident we will do the same in this case."
The coalition of law professors, non-profit lawyers and private attorneys are joined by a team of top law students at the University of Denver and they are all eager to aggressively litigate the free speech rights of journalists seeking to document the trapping of bison within national park lands.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
- CA wildfire season: Will rain, snow weather forecast end risk? | The ... ›
- California Fires Now Rage All Year as Drought Creates Tinderbox ... ›
- California weather stays dry as rain and snow come up short | The ... ›
- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›
A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?