For immediate release – March 31, 2020
John Persell, Western Watersheds Project (503)896-6472; 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
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service for the 2019 decision to allow 72 federally-protected grizzly bears to be killed for the sake of public lands livestock grazing operations in the Upper Green River area. The authorized level of killing comes despite there only being an estimated 718 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of just five isolated populations of the species in the lower 48.
The authorization for killing bears comes as part of a 2019 Biological Opinion that relies on voluntary, ineffective and uncertain conservation measures to mitigate conflict, such as moving the carcasses of dead livestock away from recreational sites – a measure which may help protect forest visitors but pushes the cattle carcasses deeper into the woods and conditions the bears to livestock as a food source. Even these weak conservation measures are subject to multiple discretionary exceptions, meaning that no hard-and-fast rules apply to managing livestock operations in bear habitat for the sake of grizzly survival on these 170,643 acres of public lands.
“The determination that 72 grizzlies could be lawfully killed for preying on private livestock on the Bridger-Teton National Forest doesn’t make any sense,” said John Persell, attorney with Western Watersheds Project. “This is a threatened species and the livestock permittees in the Upper Green should have to adapt to coexisting with the native wildlife, rather than making the bears pay with their lives for eating the available food.”
“Upper Green River allotment permittees are allowed to drag dead livestock into the backcountry away from roads, increasing the likelihood grizzly bears will encounter and rely on these carcasses for food,” said Jason Christensen, director of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection. “This practice, along with the climate change and forage competition already stressing the survival of the population, will lead to increased conflict and mortality for grizzlies.”
“The agencies didn’t even limit the number of female bears that could be killed for preying on livestock, despite all the science pointing to their presence being key to the recovery of the species,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “This is a slowly-reproducing species and every mother bear out there is critical for the grizzly’s survival.”
Grizzlies in the Upper Green are threatened not just by mortality due to management killing, but by the widespread loss of whitebark pines due to climate-driven outbreaks of mountain pine beetles. Though some bears have shifted to depend more heavily on army cutworm moths for food, these high elevation insects are not available in the Upper Green area. The FWS failed to consider how a correlation between increasing livestock conflict and the loss of whitebark pine.
“Agency livestock grazing management must be adapted or halted in the project area to address climate change impacts and forage competition from livestock on the grizzly bear’s historic food sources,” said Christensen.
Also at issue in today’s lawsuit is the imperiled Kendall Warm Springs dace that is only found in the in the forest’s Kendall Warm Springs, a 328-yard-long tributary to the Green River warmed to a constant temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit by numerous thermal seeps. The Upper Green livestock plan allows livestock within the existing exclosure meant to protect the species.
“The grazing plan allows cattle within the exclosure as part of their herding scheme, but there is nothing that will keep the livestock from degrading the riparian and channel conditions of the springs. These impacts could increase summer stream temperatures and reduce winter temperatures, putting the dace at risk, and therefore is in violation of the Endangered Species Act,” Garrity said.
The plaintiff groups are represented by Western Watersheds Project, Kristine Akland of Akland Law Firm of Missoula, Montana, and David Bahr of Bahr Law Offices, PC, of Eugene, Oregon.