Buffalo cannot roam in parts of Montana, judge says
Ruling comes after reports of buffalo interacting with citizens outside of Yellowstone Park.
Thu, May 12, 2011 at 06:52 PM
SALMON, Idaho - A Montana state judge has blocked a plan to let Yellowstone National Park buffalo roam into parts of Montana, citing risks to public safety and private property.
State District Judge William Nels Swandal on Wednesday issued two restraining orders temporarily halting the roaming.
Federal, state and tribal agencies that oversee the Yellowstone herd last month opened 75,000 acres of mostly public lands in Montana to the buffalo, or bison, whose drive for food in winter can cause them to migrate from the park.
Ranchers and the Montana county where the bison have been roaming filed lawsuits earlier this month seeking to revoke the plan and asking for a temporary restraining order against it.
They accused state managers of Yellowstone bison — including the governor and Montana's wildlife agency — of threatening people, cattle and private property by allowing scores of buffalo to wander from the park's north entrance into Gardiner, Montana and other parts of Park County.
"Large numbers of bison now regularly congregate at school bus stops and other locations, interacting with children, elderly and other individuals that live in the area to a degree not previously encountered," Swandal wrote in his ruling.
Bill Schenk, attorney for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said on Thursday that the agency will craft a response once it receives copies of the judge's orders.
The lawsuits are the latest development in an ongoing battle over the 3,700-strong Yellowstone herd. A hearing on the matter is set for May 25.
Ranchers say it is a reservoir for brucellosis, a disease that can cause domestic cows to miscarry, and that roaming bison damage grazing grounds and fencing.
Wildlife advocates argue that the years-long practice of capturing migrating buffalo and killing those positive for brucellosis is shameful treatment of the nation's last, free-roaming bands of purebred bison.
The legal wrangling comes as the park is releasing buffalo penned this year after record snows at Yellowstone caused the animals to search for food in Montana.
Captured bison that tested positive for brucellosis were to be shipped to slaughter when Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer in February granted them a 90-day stay of execution.
In a sign of tensions over roaming buffalo, two bulls were illegally shot last month near Gardiner. The Park County prosecutor has declined to say if charges will be filed.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)
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