By Taylor Anderson

After a state agency requested a new judge for the Park County Stockgrowers Association lawsuit over 75,000 acres of bison grazing grounds north of Gardiner, the trial has been set to continue; but not until October.

The proceedings came after Yellowstone National Park bison were hazed or migrated back into the park, and fresh after heated debate between conservation, cattle and private property groups.

District Judge Nels Swandal appointed last week judge E. Wayne Phillips to take over ruling in the case, and a scheduling conference took place yesterday to rehash the details.

Phillips granted four groups’ motion to intervene and sit in on the case. Three of the groups are conservation groups and the other is the Montana Farm Bureau Federation.

The Bear Creek Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense will all be allowed to sit in on the case during the Oct. 26 and 27 hearings.

Phillips also decided to combine two lawsuits – each against the Interagency Bison Management Plan – into one. The stockgrowers filed a restraining order against the IBMP working in the area, along with the closure of a 75,000-acre pasture for the Yellowstone National Park bison that left park boundaries last winter.

Despite a four-month break before trails (May 25 was the original date set for the trials) a legal official at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which requested finding a replacement for judge Swandal, said there would be ample time to settle the issue before the bison leave the park again.

Bison carry brucellosis, a disease that causes miscarriage and can be passed from elk and bison to cattle. If the disease were passed onto Montana’s cattle, the industry would lose “Brucellosis free” designation across the state and would lose face against other states’ products.

Because of this, 770 bison were captured in the Stephens Creek trap facility this winter after trying to leave the park.

Conservation groups argue that there has never been a case of brucellosis passed from bison to cattle, yet bison are being trapped and slaughtered to protect cattle. Private property owners and ranchers butted heads because of the differing opinions on whether the bison should be allowed to roam free on their lands in West Yellowstone and Gardiner.