CHEYENNE, WY – The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming and Duane Morris LLP sent a letter to the National Park Service today demanding that a conservation group and a journalist be allowed to observe bison management activities in Yellowstone National Park. The government has permitted such access in recent years with no reported problems.

The letter was sent on behalf of Buffalo Field Campaign and journalist Christopher Ketcham. They also seek to inspect slaughter sites and records about the bison management operations. The ACLU said its clients will pursue legal action if the park does not grant access to the bison operations.

According to a press release on the Yellowstone’s website, a seven-mile area around the Stephens Creek, Mont., facility is closed to the public until further notice “for safety reasons.” The ACLU of Wyoming’s demand letter pointed out that the presence of the press has never caused a safety threat in the past. It also noted that the press is permitted to observe bison operations on national forest land on the western boundary of the park, and that any legitimate safety concerns could be addressed with fewer restrictions.

“Whether you agree with the bison management plan or not, the public and the press have a First Amendment right to know what our government is doing,” said Jennifer Horvath, staff attorney at the ACLU of Wyoming. “The Park Service’s unreasonable restrictions keep the public in the dark about controversial government activities.”

The Inter-agency Bison Management Plan was adopted in 2000 in response to complaints about the risk of brucellosis the animals pose to livestock outside the park. This year, the park intends to cull approximately 900 bison as part of the plan. The ACLU of Wyoming letter said that changes in the park’s approach towards the media makes access that much more urgent.

“Time and again, the government has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to accurately and fully report on its controversial activities. The press acts as a surrogate for the public and keeps us informed about activities like the bison cull that we cannot observe ourselves,” Horvath said.

Today’s letter is available online here.