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"Bison Family in Montana" by USFWS Mountain Prairie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

UPOM wins bison lawsuit—documents obtained from FWP detail high degree of coordination with APR

We’re pleased to announce that FWP has agreed to settle our lawsuit against them regarding their bison management plan. They’ve agreed to scrap the bison plan and will not undertake a new EIS for bison management for at least ten years. You can read the settlement agreement here.

As part of the litigation against FWP to challenge their bison management plan, UPOM requested all communications from FWP related to the bison management plan. We received over 2500 pages of documents. Through that discovery, we learned that FWP was in deep negotiations with APR to establish a herd of free-roaming bison on the CMR wildlife refuge. This despite repeated claims by FWP that they were not considering any specific relocation sites as part of their bison EIS.

Due to the damning information that was discovered through the course of our litigation, FWP was eager to settle the case. It was clear from communications FWP had related to the EIS that they were acting in an inappropriate and likely illegal manner by having secret meetings with APR, excluding their selected site (UL Bend on the CMR) from EIS analysis, and conducting the EIS to reach a predetermined outcome. In short, we had them dead to rights and they knew it. You can read our settlement offer linked here.

You can read some of this correspondence in the documents linked here. Here’s what you will find:

  • Page 1. 2015 correspondence between FWP and APR explaining that they had remove any reference to specific sites. In public statements leading up to the release of the Bison Management plan in 2020, FWP repeatedly claimed they were not considering specific sites for bison relocation—these emails show those statements were untrue; as early as 2015 they were considering specific sites.
  • Page 2. A 2015 email from FWS to FWP stating that FWS is not interested a “fenced bison herd” on the CMR. The email says “don’t worry too much about the occasional rogue animals that happen to take 2 steps beyond a magic line where they won’t be tolerated.”
  • Page 3. A 2017 internal FWP email showing they were meeting with pro-bison groups to push the EIS. Anti-bison groups were not given the same opportunity to shape the EIS after the close of the public comment period. This email shows FWP wanted to keep secret this meeting between FWP, Governor Bullock, and bison groups:
    “Please don’t distribute further . . . [the bison advocates] were pretty demanding that the clock is ticking and we need to have things in place and hooves on the ground within a couple years so they are well established before the end of Bullock’s 4-year term and therefore harder to undo…”
    [The goal is] “finalizing the programmatic EIS and then moving forward on an analysis of a potential reintro. site involving the CMR in conjunction with APR – possibly using APR’s bison, which would involve whatever legal hoops are necessary to make them wildlife.”
  • Pages 4-6. A 2017 letter referencing a visit by Governor Bullock and FWP Director Martha Williams to APR. The letter goes into detail about the CMR as a site for bison relocation. APR goes on to offer their bison herd worth $2 million to the State. The only condition is the state “agreeing to maintain, in perpetuity, a minimum population of ten thousand wild bison in the immediate region of the American Prairie Reserve . . .”
  • Page 7. 2017 email detailing a FWP staff meeting to push the final EIS forward. The plan is to “convene a meeting of this group to run through several scenarios, such as the UL Bend proposal, to test run the process and make sure it works” “Time Frame: We want to have these tasks completed by the beginning of November; we will then determine when is the best time to release the Decision Notice”
  • Page 8. 2020 internal FWP email indicating they scrubbed references to APR from the final Bison EIS.
  • Page 9. 2020 email from FWP to Governor Bullock on highlights of the bison EIS.