Judge blocks helicopter use in Yellowstone bison drive

Posted: May 16, 2012

Written by

MATT VOLZ, Associated Press/Greenwire
Bison and helicopter

A U.S. district judge yesterday blocked Montana officials from using helicopters to drive wild bison back into Yellowstone National Park after wildlife advocates said the action could harm grizzly bears in the area.

Judge Charles Lovell granted a temporary restraining order after the wildlife advocacy group Alliance for the Wild Rockies argued that state and federal officials had not studied how the helicopters would affect grizzly bears, which are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. The group said the flights can drive bears from their habitat around Yellowstone.

"The helicopter can't distinguish between a bison and a grizzly bear," said attorney Rebecca Smith, who is representing the group. "These areas are the last habitat refuges for grizzly bears."

The Montana Department of Livestock had hired a helicopter to haze about 70 bison out of the Hebgen Basin so cattle could be moved into the area to graze. Hazing is an annual event to drive back bison, which wander out in search of food during the winter. The flights are paid for by the state agency in coordination with other state and federal agencies that oversee the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

Agency executive officer Christian Mackay said he will ask the wildlife department and National Park Service for additional assistance to drive the animals back. He said he did not know how effective the drive would be without the helicopter noise.

"We're about to find out," he said. "We're going to put forth every effort to return them to the park."

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