Friday, February 6, 2015

Media Seek Access to Bison Culling in Yellowstone Park

The National Park Service is culling bison in the Stephens Creek area of Yellowstone National Park, and it has blocked off a seven-mile radius around its culling activities, denying access to the public. Members of the Buffalo Field Campaign and a freelance investigative journalist concerned about the welfare of bison have repeatedly requested permission to view the culling activities, only to be met with the assertion that the seven-mile distance constitutes “access.” Although the Park Service allowed the media to observe the culling activities from within a naked-eye view in the past, for the last few years they have shut off public scrutiny of their activities.

This lack of access is troubling, given that the bison-culling activities are being performed on public land, by federal and state agents, with federal funds. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the public and the media a qualified right of access to government activities, and this right should apply to the bison-culling activities in Yellowstone. Not only does the media have this constitutional right, but U.S. Forest Service agents in a different area of the park currently allow the media to view similar bison-culling activities, calling into question the Park Service’s motivations for denying access to Stephens Creek.

While the Interagency Bison Management Plan authorizes the management of Yellowstone’s bison population, including certain herding and culling activities, the public has a right to know how those activities are being carried out.  Yellowstone’s bison are the last pure-bred group of free-range bison left in the country, and it is important to ensure that they are being treated humanely.

The ACLU of Wyoming, in conjunction with the law firm DuaneMorris LLP, has made a formal request to the Park Service to permit the media to observe the bison-culling activities. If the Park Service continues to refuse to provide access, the ACLU and Duane Morris will pursue legal remedies to secure the media their First Amendment rights.

Meredith E. Carpenter
Duane Morris LLP