Three Montana environmental groups are suing the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) for illegally withholding information from the public. Buffalo Field Campaign, The Ecology Center and Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers contend that since early this year their repeated requests for records from the DOL’s bison management activities have been denied. The lawsuit was filed July 27th in Helena.
The DOL—in partnership with several federal agencies—hazes, captures, slaughters, and shoots wild buffalo that roam outside Yellowstone National Park. Their actions are part of a 15-year,$45 million plan to control brucellosis in buffalo. Representatives of the three groups contend that the agency is dragging its feet since a lawsuit was filed in federal court last May over the implementation of the buffalo management plan.
“The Montana Department of Livestock is violating our constitutional right to know,” says Darrell Geist of Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers. “We believe the agency’s denial of our records requests is meant to punish us for filing a lawsuit against them in federal court over their disgraceful bison management operations.”
“We haven’t seen a copy of the lawsuit yet,” says Karen Cooper, information officer for the DOL. “They’ve gotten copies to the press but not to us. I have seen a copy of the suit from another source, and it seems to overlap with the suit that was filed against us in May.” Cooper also says that some of the information the groups are seeking is available on her agencies’ website, but acknowledges that not all of the information is readily available.
“Our council is in the process of furnishing information through their attorney, and this is according to federal procedure,” says Cooper. Cooper has been accused of running interference at a recent meeting of the State Board of Livestock, refusing to let activists answer the questions of board members or DOL employees. “The Montana DOL must be hiding some pretty damning information. Their presumption that they are above the law is a bad argument for withholding any information,” says Jim Coefield of The Ecology Center. “This lawsuit should force them to open their agency to public scrutiny, unveiling their controversial bison management tactics and maneuvers.”
The Yellowstone buffalo herd is the only one left in the U.S. that has continuously occupied its native range. Since 1984 3,182 buffalo have been shot or shipped to slaughter under the bison management plan.