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For Immediate Release, April 14, 2011

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Iconic Plains Bison

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project took the first step in a lawsuit today by filing a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision that the iconic plains bison does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. Millions of bison once roamed across a wide swath of North America; today slightly more than 20,000 wild animals remain in a small number of conservation herds.

“North American bison herds are a dim shadow of their former glory,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “The Obama administration’s decision to deny bison protection under the Endangered Species Act was a farce.”

The Endangered Species Act requires protection of species when they are endangered in “all or a significant portion of range,” and is broadly purposed to protect species and “the ecosystems upon which they depend.” In order to claim bison do not deserve protection, the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the fact that bison are gone from nearly all of their historic range and instead argued it must only consider the species’ current range. Scientists refer to the practice of ignoring historic loss of wildlife populations as a “shifting baseline,” whereby successive loss and degradation of the environment is accepted by only looking at a narrow window of time.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has put on blinders to the tremendous loss of bison from the North American landscape,” said Greenwald. “This see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach is entirely inconsistent with the broad purposes of the Endangered Species Act to recover species.”

Remaining herds of bison continue to face a number of threats, including introgression with cattle, disease and disease management, domestication and continued loss of habitat. In particular, bison in Yellowstone National Park, which make up the largest and wildest remaining herd, continue to face slaughter and persecution if they leave the boundaries of the park.

“The persecution and slaughter of Yellowstone bison is a travesty,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. “There have been no documented cases of bison passing disease to cattle in the wild, yet we continue to confine bison to the park, limiting and retarding their recovery.”  

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