PRESS RELEASE - May 18, 2011
Alliance for the Wild Rockies files lawsuit to halt harassment of Yellowstone grizzly bears
Missoula, MT. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a Helena, Montana, based non-profit conservation group, has filed a lawsuit to halt repeated low-altitude helicopter flights over occupied grizzly bear habitat within the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. The group alleges that the helicopter flights 'harm and harass' grizzly bears in violation of the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. The Yellowstone grizzly bear, the subject of their grievance, is currently listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
"Someone needs to finally stand up for the threatened grizzly bears that are harmed and harassed year after year by these low-level helicopter overflights," said Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "The U.S. Forest Service is ignoring science, law, and their own agency guidance documents by allowing low-altitude helicopter hazing in occupied grizzly habitat on the Gallatin National Forest outside Yellowstone National Park. If these bears are not protected on federally owned National Forest lands in their own recovery area, where will they be protected?"
"We have video footage from last year showing a Yellowstone grizzly bear fleeing in terror from one of these low-level helicopters," said Garrity. "And, according to the National Park Service's scientific literature review of five different studies, helicopters cause grizzly bears to panic and flee 'in nearly all cases' and the bears never become tolerant of helicopters, even with frequent exposure."
Garrity said the studies also show that grizzlies may actually abandon areas in response to even infrequent overflights. "The consequences of habitat abandonment can be serious, particularly for species like the threatened grizzly bear whose high-quality habitat is already scarce," Garrity explained. "Accordingly, multiple court decisions have consistently set aside agency actions that allowed low-altitude helicopter use in grizzly bear habitat."
The U.S. Forest Service has publicly stated that the helicopter flights are necessary to haze Yellowstone bison back into Yellowstone National Park so that domestic cattle do not contract diseases from the bison. However, there has never been a documented case of disease transmission from bison to cattle in the wild. "It's a hollow argument," Garrity said. "The relevant public and private lands in the area do not even have any active cattle grazing right now."
"We know that private landowners in the area overwhelmingly prefer the presence of bison and grizzly bears instead of the low-level helicopters hovering over their homes and property," Garrity explained. "And that's no surprise. Who wants to live where you feel like your home is in a combat zone?"
"Probably the worst part about all of this is that when the government agencies did the environmental analysis of hazing effects for the Interagency Bison Management Plan, they told us, and I quote: 'hazing operations would cease if there was evidence of grizzlies being active in the area,'" Garrity said. "Right now there are grizzlies active all over the area, the Forest Service said so itself in a recent press release, so why is the government still planning to move forward with helicopter hazing operations?"
"We truly wish we didn't have to take this government agency to court to force it to follow the law and halt the harassment of grizzly bears" Garrity concluded. "But grizzlies are vulnerable right now because they are weak from their long winter's hibernation. So, we're saying 'enough is enough.' This has gone on for years and years and now it's time to bring it to a halt. That's just what the Alliance for the Wild Rockies intends to do."