HELEN, Mont. (AP) – A wildlife agency that has lost key court decisions over its denial of petitions to protect Yellowstone…

HELEN, Mont. (AP) – A wildlife agency that lost key court decisions over its denial of petitions to protect bison in Yellowstone National Park will undertake a comprehensive study to determine whether the animals should be covered under the species law in endangered, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday.

The decision follows a federal court ruling in January that ordered the US Fish and Wildlife Service to review its 2019 denial of petitions seeking additional protections. US District Court Judge Randolf Moss in Washington, DC, said the agency did not give a reason for its decision to rely on some scientific studies while rejecting others.

The January ruling was the second time a federal judge has ruled the agency wrongly denied motions to list Yellowstone bison as threatened or endangered.

According to findings expected to be published Monday in the Federal Register, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said the petitions — first filed in 2014 — present substantial and credible information that the protections sought might be necessary based on the animal cuts. range, lack of tolerance for bison outside the park, and loss of habitat and genetic diversity.

The agency will now conduct a year-long review to determine if any protections are needed, the draft notice says. The agency is asking people to submit any new information regarding the status or threats to the Yellowstone bison or its habitat to be considered during the review.

Bison in and around Yellowstone National Park are managed under a federal-state agreement to keep bison wild while preventing the spread of brucellosis – a bacterial infection that can cause animals to miscarry – to livestock from Montana. The Interagency Bison Management Plan calls for bison to be captured, tested for brucellosis, and sent for slaughter when they leave the park. Bison can also be hunted outside the park.

There have been no documented cases of bison transmitting brucellosis directly to cattle, but there have been numerous occasions where elk have transmitted brucellosis to cattle, according to the National Park Service.

Buffalo Field Campaign and the Western Watersheds Project fought to have Yellowstone’s bison declared endangered or threatened based, in part, on studies that show the park has two genetically distinct bison herds.

Biologists argue that herds should have 2,000 to 3,000 members to avoid inbreeding. In 2021, the park’s central herd had 1,300 to 1,500 members, according to the National Park Service. The northern herd has about 5,000 to 5,400 members.

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