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Victory: Judge Rejects Livestock Label for Wild Bison in Montana
Efforts to conserve and restore wild bison won a victory Monday when a Montana judge rejected an effort by opponents of bison restoration to classify the iconic animals as livestock instead of wildlife under state law.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
If it had been accepted, the argument rejected by Montana District Judge John McKeon would have treated wild bison as livestock under Montana law once the animals were captured and held in quarantine as a prelude to wild bison restoration efforts. A legal classification as livestock, in turn, would have transferred jurisdiction over quarantined bison from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to the Montana Department of Livestock—a move that threatened to impede any future efforts to restore native bison as a wildlife species in appropriate portions of their historic habitat.
However, Judge McKeon ruled that wild bison remain classified as wildlife under state law regardless of their confinement in quarantine.
“This ruling rightly discredits what amounted to a stealth attack on future efforts to restore wild bison in Montana,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation in opposing Citizens for Balanced Use’s argument. “Wild bison are classified as wildlife under Montana law. Now it is time to restore wild bison as wildlife on the Montana landscape.”
Monday’s ruling represents the latest chapter in a successful legal effort by the conservationists to support a plan by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to transfer a group of disease-free wild bison from a quarantine facility near Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations in northeast and north central Montana.
Citizens for Balanced Use filed a lawsuit in 2012 to stop the transfer program, and the Montana district court responded by issuing a preliminary injunction that halted the planned bison transfer to Fort Belknap lands. But the conservationists appealed that injunction ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, which overturned the injunction in a decision issued in June 2013. The Fort Belknap transfer went forward later that summer.
“Judge McKeon has now validated the obvious,” said Defenders of Wildlife program director Jonathan Proctor. “Just because wild Yellowstone bison were moved to a different location doesn’t make them any less wild. These bison were moved specifically to start a new wild herd and are managed as wildlife. This victory will enable wild bison recovery to continue on willing locations in Montana—such as the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations.”
Once numbering approximately 30 million across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, wild bison were almost driven to extinction by market hunters in the late nineteenth century. Montana was among their last strongholds, but the slaughter persisted until in 1903 only about 25 individuals remained in the wild, located in the Pelican Valley of Yellowstone National Park. Since then, Yellowstone’s wild bison population has rebounded to approximately 4,000 animals, and Montana wildlife officials continue to consider plans to transplant some of these wild bison to the species’ historic plains habitat.
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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
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"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.