For Immediate Release, June 10, 2022
Jonathan Ratner, Western Watersheds Project, (877) 746-3628, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936, email@example.com
Jason Christensen, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, (435) 881-6917, firstname.lastname@example.org
DENVER— Conservation groups today appealed a federal court’s decision to uphold the killing of 72 grizzly bears in response to livestock conflicts stemming from private grazing in the Upper Green River area of Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. In May, a ruling from the Wyoming District Court dismissed the groups’ concerns about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to properly evaluate the impacts of so many lethal removals to the species, which is listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act.
“The livestock industry should be required to coexist with grizzly bears if they want to graze private cattle on public lands,” said Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming director for Western Watersheds Project. “It is absurd to kill wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act for livestock that graze on public lands basically for free.”
Grizzly bears reproduce slowly, with lengthy periods between litters of cubs. For that reason, maximizing the survival of female grizzlies is key to the recovery of the species. Yet despite previous limits in the Upper Green on killing female grizzly bears – essential for population maintenance – the Service abandoned such protections in 2019 without explanation, and greenlit the lethal removal of dozens of bears over the next ten years.
“It defies common sense to kill these protected native animals to benefit a handful of private ranchers who knowingly put domestic cattle in grizzly habitat,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “It is not like we have a shortage of threatened or endangered cows. Any loss of a female grizzly has a disproportionate impact on the overall population, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s authorization ignored evidence that female bears already struggle in this particular area.”
The Upper Green River area also provides crucial connectivity to additional habitat as grizzlies reclaim their historic range. However, most of the grazed allotments are considered population ‘sinks’ ––where mortality exceeds reproduction— for female grizzly bears, a factor unaddressed by the Service.
“From the Wyoming Range south of the Upper Green all the way to the Uintas of Northern Utah, these public lands are waiting for grizzlies’ return,” said Jason Christensen, executive director of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection. “Killing one-tenth of the current Greater Yellowstone population within this concentrated area not only sets back the species’ recovery, but also halts its natural expansion to suitable habitat within its historic range.”
The most recent official population estimate for the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population is 727, according to the latest report published by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
Conservation groups also appealed the lower court’s ruling because the Forest Service’s adopted alternative for the Upper Green project violated the Bridger-Teton Forest Plan. The plan requires that grazing retain adequate forage and cover for wildlife. Yet according to the agency’s own scientists, the authorized level of use by domestic cattle will result in inadequate cover for sensitive amphibian and migratory bird species on these public lands. As a result, agency scientists expect rare species like the boreal toad to continue to decline on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
“The language of the Bridger-Teton plan is clear,” said Ratner. “In this part of the forest, the agency should resolve conflicts between grazing and wildlife habitat in favor of wildlife, yet the district court opinion did not even examine the relevant direction from the forest plan.”
The Upper Green River area encompasses traditional lands of the Cheyenne, Crow, and Shoshone peoples.