Buffalo Advocates Score Transparency Victory Against USDA, APHIS

A group of preservationists reached a settlement with a federal agency confronting the buffalo in the room–the Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s “pattern of practice” of failing to respond to FOIA requests.

A settlement filed in Montana federal district court last week will require the agency to make significant changes to its FOIA response procedures, with the intended effect of making operations more transparent.

Buffalo Field Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting dwindling bison populations, alleged that the agency dodged their requests for access to public information on the agency’s experiments involving bison population control, and the welfare of animals in their care.

The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to requests for public information within 20 business days; Buffalo Field campaign said APHIS gave itself “months of improper extensions,” according to a release.

The settlement will lead to more oversight of the Freedom of Information Act’s “unusual circumstances” extension, and will require the agency to provide more access by posting a phone number or Internet link for the public to use to check on the status of their public information requests.

APHIS will also pay Buffalo Field Campaign’s attorneys’ fees and costs to settle the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The Buffalo Field Campaign has posted all of the documents received from APHIS online.

“Prompt public access to government records is a necessary ingredient for a healthy, transparent democracy,” says Daniel Snyder, an attorney with the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C. who represented Buffalo Field Campaign in its lawsuit, said in a press release issued by the nonprofit. “Timely access is even more critical here, where the records sought by Buffalo Field Campaign illuminate the federal government’s deplorable treatment of Yellowstone’s threatened wild buffalo population. The new procedures APHIS must implement nationwide as a result of this lawsuit should result in the punctual disclosure of records requested by the public.”