A Helena-based conservation group once again is seeking an emergency injunction to halt the use of helicopters to haze bison back into Yellowstone National Park.
On Monday, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a request for an emergency injunction from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that the helicop-ters, which fly at low altitudes, “harm and harass” federally protected grizzly bears.
Last year the Alliance sought and was granted the emergency injunction by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell, which halted the hazing in 2012.
But less than two months ago, Lovell denied a permanent injunction, saying that the Alliance hadn’t shown that hazing bison that migrate out of Yellow-stone in the winter significantly harms, harasses or “takes” grizzlies and that their numbers are continuing to increase. Currently, bison are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Lovell wrote in his opinion that helicopter hazing isn’t cumulatively significant in its impact on grizzly bears and doesn’t cause the loss or destruction of the resources, items that the Alliance brought up in its lawsuit.
This time, the Alliance is going above Lovell and asking the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the helicopter hazing, again alleging that they “harm and harass” grizzlies in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“This is an annual running battle,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance. “Every spring they haze bison to benefit the livestock industry and wind up harassing grizzly bears in their spring feeding habitat at the bears’ most sensitive time of the year. As long as they keep flying, we’ll keep filing to halt the helicopter harassment.”
He added that contrary to Lovell’s opinion, members of his organization believe the Yellowstone grizzly population is contracting rather than growing. He said that from 2002 to 2011, the number of Yellowstone female bears with cubs declined and juvenile grizzly survival rates.
“There is a considerable body of science that proves low-level helicopter flights ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears,” Garrity added. “Even the National Park Service’s own report to Congress found that grizzlies ‘never become tolerant’ of low-level helicopter overflights and may ‘abandon’ their preferred habitat because of these flights.”
He believes the state needs to apply for a “take” permit, which would be put out for public comments and decision on whether they can “take” grizzly bears without harming them. However, Lovell wrote in his order that federal wildlife managers have concluded that simply moving a bear from one spot to another by any means doesn’t constitute a taking of that animal. He said that a video purportedly showing a grizzly running from a helicopter didn’t constitute a take in his opinion.
Helicopter hazing had been used almost every spring since 2000, typically beginning on May 15, to round up bison that have left Yellowstone and return them to the park’s confines. Steve Merritt, spokesman for the Montana Department of Livestock, said they started this year’s effort to move bison that have migrated out of Yellowstone Park last week.
Merritt said that while the effort varies from day to day, they’re pushing bison back into the park from both the west and north boundaries, both with helicopters and on horseback. He anticipates they’ll try to move about 250 bison Wednesday after pushing about 50 into the park Tuesday.
“It’s a standard year,” Merritt said. “They move out, we move them back in.”
Last year, they used only people on horseback to push the bison back into the park, and Christian MacKay, executive officer for the Montana Department of Livestock, said they ended up hazing animals multiple times because the riders couldn’t get them quite as far into the park as they could with helicop-ters.
State officials typically start pushing the bison back into the park in mid-May, which is about a month before livestock are allowed to graze on public lands — some of which are used by the migrating bison. Livestock owners fear allowing the bison and cattle to be in close proximity will transmit brucello-sis from bison to cattle, which causes animals to abort fetuses.