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SAVING THE PLAINS BISON

A celebrated symbol of the American West, bison once roamed North America by the millions — until they were driven to the brink of extinction by wholesale slaughter and habitat destruction in the nineteenth century. Today they’re reduced to a tiny fraction of their former range in small conservation herds, where their welfare is eroded through genetic contamination by cattle, disease, domestication and ongoing habitat loss and destruction. Because of a misguided belief that they will spread disease to cattle, bison in Yellowstone National Park, which make up the largest and wildest remaining herd, still face slaughter and persecution if they leave the boundaries of the park.

Private citizens (and Center members) in Montana petitioned to protect the plains bison under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. After legal action by the Center, in 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally acknowledged the petition — but ignored the fact that the great mammal is now gone from all but 1 percent of its historic range. Arguing it only needed to consider the bison’s status in the species’ current — and pitifully depleted — living area, the agency argued it didn’t warrant protection. Since that decision went against the intent of the Endangered Species Act, the Center and Western Watersheds Project filed a notice of intent to sue the Service in 2011.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2011 Notice of intent to sue
2010 Lawsuit to speed protection for plains bison and 91 other species

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

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RELATED ISSUES
The Endangered Species Act

Contact: Noah Greenwald

Plains bison photo by Jack Dykinga, USDA