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Biodiversity: Another win for bison restoration

Montana court says bison are not livestock

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A Yellowstone bison. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Montana district court judge this month rejected yet another attempt by ranchers to block the restoration of bison in the northern plains. The ranchers sought to have wild bison classified as livestock rather than wildlife, but Montana District Judge John McKeon ruled last week that wild bison are wildlife under state law — regardless of their confinement in quarantine.

A legal classification as livestock 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.

“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.” Continue reading

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Feds once again push grizzly bear de-listing

An adult grizzly bear in the brush. PHOTO COURTESY THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

An adult grizzly bear in the brush. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Conservation groups say it’s too early

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists last week said they expect to decide within a month whether they will remove grizzly bears in the northern Rockies from the endangered species list despite a recent study suggesting that populations may be declining.

Grizzlies were classified as a threatened species in 1975 and cooperative conservation efforts have help recover and stabilized some populations, but wildlife conservation groups say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to take grizzlies off the list is premature. Continue reading

Study shows link between grizzlies, berries and wolves

More proof that apex predators are critical to their ecosystems

ChrisServheenUSFWS

Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem may be benefiting from the presence of wolves, according to a new study. Photo courtesy ChrisServheen/USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s no question that top predators have profound impacts on their ecosystems, but sometimes those relationships play out in unexpected ways. New research by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University has documented how the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is helping grizzly bears.

By studying what bears eat, and how wolves affect the behavior of other animals, the biologists found that the return of the wolves is helping to restore a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century — berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation. Continue reading

Montana Supreme Court ruling clears way to restore bison on Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Native American lands

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A buffalo grazing in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Decision has cultural and economic benefits for tribal groups at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Montana Supreme Court ruling last week clears the way for the return of Brucellosis-free Yellowstone bison to Native American lands, where the animals are valued for their cultural, traditional and economic benefits.

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision following an appeal by two conservation groups, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, represented by the public-interest environmental law firm Earthjustice.

The transfer of Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Native American lands was opposed by Citizens for Balanced Use, which voiced concerns that the bison might break free of enclosures and transmit Brucellosis to domesticated cattle. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Study sheds new light on wolf predation

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Hunting wolves may have less of an impact on elk herds than previously believed. Photo via USFWS.

Three-year tracking project helps show that wolves alone aren’t necessarily responsible for declining elk populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For quite some time, conventional wisdom has held that the presence of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area has had beneficial impacts on the overall ecosystem by keeping elk on the move.

But a new study, led by recent University of Wyoming Ph.D. graduate Arthur Middleton, casts some doubt on that theory. For three years, the researchers closely followed the  Clarks Fork elk herd west of Cody, along with the wolf packs that prey on it. Continue reading

Wildlife: Yellowstone’s migratory elk under pressure

Study indicates drought and predation is affecting reproduction

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This 1998 file image shows bull elk in the Lamar Valley in winter. Photo courtesy Yellowstone National Park/Jim Peaco.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Yellowstone’s migratory elk have been feeling the impacts of drought and increased predation by wolves and grizzlies  – two landscape-level changes with broad implications for conservation of migratory animals, according to a new study published in the journal Ecology.

The new study by the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit — a joint program involving U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wyoming, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, describes a long-term decline in the number of calves produced annually by the Clarks Fork herd, a population of about 4000 elk whose migrants travel annually between winter ranges near Cody, Wyoming and summer ranges within Yellowstone National Park.   Continue reading

Biodiversity: Yellowstone bison get more room to roam

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A bison grazes near a highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A long-running battle over Yellowstone bison was at least partly resolved this week, as a Montana judge upheld a state policy allowing the animals to roam outside Yellowstone National Park without facing harassment and death.

The state rules were challenged by ranchers opposed to allowing bison to graze in the Gardiner Basin, just north of the park, important habitat in the winter and early spring. Federal and state biologists decided last year to allow bison seasonal access until May 1 of each year, opening critical foraging lands when higher elevations in the park lack spring grasses for bison and other grazing animals.

“Today’s ruling represents a victory for all those who want to see wild bison as a living part of the Montana landscape,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who defended the bison policy in the case on behalf of the Bear Creek Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Yellowstone region’s bison herds are the descendants of the last wild bison in the American West, and today they stand as some of the last genetically pure bison in the world.  The court rejected the idea that the law requires slaughtering these magnificent animals whenever they cross the park boundary.”   Continue reading

Yellowstone NP wants more input on winter-use plan

Park extends current guidelines through the end of this winter

A snowcoach passing bison on Yellowstone’s South Rim Drive. Photo NPS/JimPeaco.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After years of litigation and politically driven changes in policy, the National Park Service is inching closer to adopting a long-term winter use management plan for Yellowstone.

Winter travel via snowmobiles and snow coaches has been hotly disputed, as local business owners advocate for more access, while the park service and conservation advocates focus on trying to reduce impacts to wildlife and air quality.

For now, Yellowstone has decided to extend the current use plan for this coming winter, with a mix of snow coaches and snowmobiles, while the agency finalizes the long-term plan. Continue reading

Yellowstone slammed for cell tower plan

Yellowstone webcam, courtesy National Park Service.

Watchdog group claims park service didn’t follow its own rules in approving a new location

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Despite some internal objections, Yellowstone National Park will move ahead with plans to install a fifth cell phone tower to provide coverage in the developed Lake Village area.

The tower could be approved sometime in the next few weeks, pending objections by a watchdog group claiming the tower plans were not subject to required public scrutiny and may violate National Park Service policy and the park’s own wireless plan.

Yellowstone developed a wireless plan in response to a poorly conceived proposal to add cellular service in the Old Faithful area. The changes were aimed at boosting public involvement. Continue reading

New plan for Yellowstone NP snowmobiling released

Snowmobiles in Yellowstone. Photo courtesy Carlton University. Click to visit Carleton’s Yellowstone info page.

National Park Service looking for public comment on latest plan for managing over-snow use

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — If you thought that the National Park Service long ago settled issue of managing snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, guess again.

The agency continues to struggle with developing a plan that’s strict enough to fulfill its legal obligations to limit air and noise pollution, while allowing enough wiggle room to meet the economic needs of nearby communities.

At one point, the park service was prepared to ban snowmobiles altogether, but that plan drew howls of outrage and a lawsuit from businesses and snowmobile fans.

At issue are impacts to wildlife, the overall visitor experience and potentially even to water quality, as some measurements have shown increased levels of carcinogenic compounds in the snow where snowmobiles travel. Continue reading

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