Slaughter of Up to 900 Wild Bison at Yellowstone Park Sparks Federal Lawsuit to Protect First Amendment Rights

Animal Legal Defense Fund


The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Jamie M. Woolsey of the law firm Fuller, Sandefer & Associates and two constitutional law professors filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of journalist Christopher Ketcham and wild bison advocate Stephany Seay, who are seeking access to Yellowstone Park’s controversial bison trapping operations that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of bison. The lawsuit argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park.

Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on Feb. 15, 2016. Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park

The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on Feb. 15. During the capture and kill operation, the park service closes parts of the park to public access.

“It’s ironic that to benefit Montana ranchers grazing their cattle—an invasive species—Yellowstone Park has agreed to facilitate the capture and killing of 900 American bison, an iconic, native species,” Law Professor and ALDF Attorney Justin Marceau said.

Past accounts of similar bison killing operations have provided evidence of brutal treatment of the animals. The centerpiece of the park’s role in the slaughter is the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, which is located entirely within the national park. The bison are driven into the facility, held in pens, tested and eventually forced into trucks and transported to slaughter. In recent years, the park service reversed its previous policy that allowed members of the public to witness and document the operation—the park service itself shot video and photographs—and now proposes to offer only three supervised tours, including one when the trap facility at Stephens Creek was not in operation.

Yellowstone’s public information office also used to offer information on how many bison were captured, shipped to slaughter or injured each day. During the past two bison kills, however, the park delayed release of that information for two weeks.

“If the First Amendment right of access is to mean anything,” Marceau went on to say, “it means that citizens and journalists should have reasonable, non-disruptive access to their publicly-funded national park to observe and memorialize one of the most controversial uses of national park land imaginable.”

“No one wants their federal tax dollars to be used by park service rangers to abuse and kill the very animals the service is responsible for protecting,” Seay said. “The park service doesn’t want the public to see these shameful activities.”

Ketcham has written about the bison controversy for VICE, Harper’s and other magazines and websites. “I want full access to the operations,” he said, “so I can effectively report on the issue. I want to be able to see the suffering of these animals up close and thus bring readers up close.”

Although there were once tens of millions of bison throughout most of North America, today wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their native range, with fewer than 5,000 living in and around Yellowstone National Park, the last continuously wild, migratory herds left in the nation. The animals are currently managed under the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan; thousands of bison have been abused and killed through hazing, hunting, scientific experiments and capture-for-slaughter operations.

The purported reason for the enactment of the plan is that bison threaten to infect local cattle populations with brucellosis, a non-fatal disease originally brought to North America by European cows. Wild bison, however, have never transmitted the disease to cattle. In fact, no transmission from bison to cattle has ever occurred outside of a laboratory setting.

“Denying access to the park during this controversial publicly-funded wildlife slaughter campaign is very similar to the intent of ag-gag laws,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “Such laws ‘gag’ would-be whistleblowers, journalists and activists by making it illegal to record and disseminate photos or footage taken in agricultural operations. ALDF has successfully proven ag-gag laws are unconstitutional under the First Amendment and we are confident we will do the same in this case.”

The coalition of law professors, non-profit lawyers and private attorneys are joined by a team of top law students at the University of Denver and they are all eager to aggressively litigate the free speech rights of journalists seeking to document the trapping of bison within national park lands.



Five years ago I spent three days at Hebgen Lake (West Yellowstone). At that time I witnessed a Buffalo Haze and roundup conducted by our National Park Service. I would have to say it was the most extreme case of animal cruelty one could possibly imagine. There is a video of this very event, made at the time by local bison advocates, that is still available online.

On the first day, they used helicopters, ATVs and riders on horseback to drive the bison back toward the N.P. boundary. In the middle of the hazing operation, a calf was born. The Rangers stopped the haze for about a half hour as the calf gained its legs. I saw there was an argument going on amongst the hazers; some were clearly upset by the delay. As soon as the calf could walk, the haze continued. By late afternoon the calf was barely limping along. The haze was suspended at dusk, still about 5 miles from the park boundary.

The next morning the haze continued. The calf was by now limping badly. By afternoon, the haze had reached the Grayling Creek area, just over a mile from the Park. I watched and expected the calf to drop dead any moment. Suddenly, a group of bulls broke free and led the entire herd on an escape down the creek toward the lake. It was spectacular watching these powerful bulls lead the way, using their bulk and strength to cut a trail through the remaining snow drifts that were five and six feet high. That the calf and its mother were able to follow and escape is a testament to the tenacity of the species. With all their technology, including 2 helicopters, the Rangers were proven incapable.

The next morning, as I traveled back toward the Park, I found the calf along the side of the road, its mother still standing guard. But, by then the calf was dead and ravens had begun to settle in and squabble over the eyes.

Your tax dollars at work.


  • The same thing happens to the wild horses in southern utah. They come into the round up corrals with broken legs by the dozens. Damn shame. Cattlemen could care less about wildlife.


  • That this is for cattle (not native) to range there instead of the buffalo (native) is the main reason I have stopped eating all beef products,




Did you know:

The Near-Extinction Of American Bison In The 1800’s



Slaughter of American Bison Photograph


As the populations of the United States pushed West in the early 1800’s, a lucrative trade for the fur, skin, and meat of the American Bison began in the great plains. Bison slaughter was further encouraged by the US government as a means of starving out or removing Native American populations that relied on the bison for food. Hunting of bison became so prevalent that travelers on trains in the Midwest would shoot bison during long-haul train trips.

Once numbering in the hundreds of millions in North America, the population of the American Bison decreased to less than 1000 by 1890, resulting in the near-extinction of American bison. Thanks in large part to conservation efforts undertaken by Theodore Roosevelt and by the US government, there are now over 500,000 bison in America.

Extinction Of American Bison In Front Of Train Picture

Piles of American Buffalo Skulls Photo







One Response to “Slaughter of Up to 900 Wild Bison at Yellowstone Park Sparks Federal Lawsuit to Protect First Amendment Rights”

  1. ian says:

    If you are vegan then you have a right to feel all hot under the collar at this. Our meat industry involves cruelty as does the dairy industry. We are all puppy loving do gooders in the west, partly thanks to TV showing all the cuddly baby creatures and baby polar bears, who’s mother’s would have you for dinner in real life. If they let the bison numbers grow they’ll be attacked by the farmers for the spread of diseases and destruction of the grazing. If they shoot them, people would criticize them for cruelty. I’m afraid it’s a no-win situation. The massacres of the past happened. If they hadn’t things could have been different but I can’t see how it will change now. I feel that these articles are incitement to hypocrisy.

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