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For Immediate Release, February 23, 2011

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Obama Administration Denies Protection to Plains Bison

PORTLAND, Ore.— In response to a petition from a private citizen and a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided today that the plains bison does not deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act. Millions of plains bison once roamed across a wide swath of North America; today only about 20,000 wild bison remain in a small number of conservation herds.

“North American bison herds are a dim, dim shadow of their former glory,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Today’s decision that bison do not merit protection under the Endangered Species Act is a complete farce.”

The Endangered Species Act requires protection of species when they are endangered in “all or a significant portion of [their] range,” and is broadly aimed at protecting species and “the ecosystems upon which they depend.” In determining the bison does not warrant protection, the Fish and Wildlife Service completely ignored the fact that bison are gone from nearly the entirety of their historic range, choosing to argue that the agency has only to look at the species’ current range.

Scientists refer to the practice of ignoring historic loss of wildlife populations as a “shifting baseline,” whereby successive loss and degradation of the environment is accepted by looking merely at a narrow window of time.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has turned a blind eye to the tremendous loss of our iconic bison from the North American landscape,” said Greenwald. “This see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach is entirely inconsistent with the broad purposes of the Endangered Species Act, and we will certainly challenge this absurd finding.”

Last year, the Center sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to the petition to list the bison and other petitions to list dozens of species. The largest remaining wild bison herd is in Yellowstone National Park with smaller herds occurring in a number of western and midwestern states, such as Montana, Arizona, Utah, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Kansas.

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