U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would have immediately stopped ranchers from being allowed to kill a limited number of grizzly bears that threaten their livestock in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
The Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection sought the injunction in the case brought against the Interior Department.
The Western Watersheds case is still alive and will continue to proceed to an eventual judgment on the merits.
Another legal challenge seeking to deny the basis for the grazing permits also is continuing, according to Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. In March, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club also filed suit in federal court in the District of Columbia, challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion that enabled the U.S. Forest Service to allow livestock grazing, accompanied by the removal of problem bears, in the forest. The Wyoming Stock Growers and the State of Wyoming are seeking to have the two cases consolidated and transferred to federal court in Wyoming for consideration.
Last fall, the USFS renewed livestock grazing permits across 170,643 acres in the Upper Green River Area Rangeland area of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The grazing period in the Bridger-Teton National Forest runs from June 14-October 15.
As part of the decision-making process, USFS consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issued a biological opinion last year, authorizing the killing of up to 72 grizzly bears over the next 10 years in the area where livestock are threatened. The FWS has been issuing biological opinions to remove a small number of bears since at least 1999, according to the motion.
In 2014, FWS produced a BO which exempted the lethal removal of 11 grizzly bears within any consecutive three-year period. But the plaintiffs argued that the larger, 2019 BO was “arbitrary and capricious and violated the Endangered Species Act because it did not consider the potential for a high number of female grizzlies to be killed." As of 2017, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem supports an estimated 718 individual grizzly bears.
“It’s outrageous that the feds are caving to the livestock industry by allowing dozens of grizzly bears to be killed in their crucial habitats on public lands,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release. “Yellowstone’s grizzly bears are a national treasure that should be protected, not slaughtered.”
Magagna says the threats to cattle and the additional costs incurred by cattlemen have grown increasingly worse since more bears moved into the area in 2008 and wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s. In 2008, 22 cattle and calves were confirmed killed by grizzly bears. By 2015, that number had grown to 79, resulting in thousands of dollars in losses. Plus, ranchers incur additional costs related to moving their herds more often and keeping twice the number of cowboys on hand to try and prevent attacks, he says.
At this point, cattlemen can continue to graze their herds under the 2014 BO.
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