Upper Green talks grizzlies, grazing
With Sublette County cattlemen and officials sitting on one side of the large table and environmentalists on the other side, two days of meetings about objections to the Forest Service’s Upper Green River’s rangeland grazing draft decision proceeded slowly but surely.
The first meeting among the eight objecting parties took place at the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) Supervisor’s Office in Jackson on March 9, ending Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor and facilitator John Kuzlowski emphasizing the need for a second meeting on March 14.
That second meeting took place March 14 at Jackson’s Wyoming Game and Fish Office.
The objections mainly concerned the draft record of decision written by Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher, with O’Connnor agreeing to listen to some – but not all – objections.
For example, O’Connor stated from the start she would not entertain eliminating grazing there.
The eight objecting parties objecting to the Upper Green River’s rangeland grazing draft are permittees David Noble of Cora Valley Angus Ranch and Eddie Wardell; Albert Sommers for the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association and Sommers Ranch, LLC; Sublette County Conservation District with Sublette County Commissioners and Wyoming Coalition of Local Governments; Western Watersheds Project with Wild Earth Guardians; Center for Biological Diversity; Yellowstone to Uintas Connection with Alliance for the Wild Rockies; and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
Objections ranged from grizzly bear conflicts with livestock and humans to the Kendall Warm Springs dace, fence placements to permitted animal-units per month (AUM) grazing numbers, stream banks to rotational grazing and forage stubble heights to more supportive language from the Forest Service regarding its intents.
The issue of grizzly conflicts with livestock and humans led environmental spokespeople to ask time and again at both meetings for reduced or eliminated “stocking rates” for the Upper Green.
BTNF Natural Resources Manager Dave Booth and Range Specialist Gary Hayward said the AUMs for each summer are determined by the forest and ranchers “on the ground” in March by amount of forage and other aspects. While fewer animals can be stocked than a permit allows, ranchers cannot exceed their permitted use.
Both stated Upper Green permittees have greatly improved allotments’ forage stubble heights and leave pastures in good shape.
Western Watersheds Project’s Wyoming Director Jonathan Ratner questioned them, saying his calculations show stocking at one AUM per acre would need about 2,000 pounds of forage “and there’s nothing in the Upper Green that can produce that.”
“When we have cattle on the range and up with stubble heights and residual forage, that logic is hard for me to grasp,” Hoelscher told Ratner. “You say there are too many AUMs, and we have grass left. At the end of the year, we didn’t end up with dirt. There was forage.”
O’Connor said she is “comfortable” with the BTNF’s proposed decision to reduce AUMs to current use rather than the higher maximum permitted AUMs now allowed.
Rancher Albert Sommers said producers keep trying new ways to reduce grizzly-livestock conflicts by changing cattle movements, using more range riders and working closely with the BTNF and Wyoming Game and Fish.
Andrea Santarsiere of the Center for Biological Diversity said the idea of allowing any AUMs above the current use was “extremely surprising and concerning.”
Hayward said flexibility in individual operating plans brings fluctuations in stocking rates from year to year, he said, “If there are 7,600 head of cattle on the Upper Green – if they all went out and grazed – they’d come home when the forage runs out.”
Environmental objectors also asked for more substantial reporting about actual actions and practices permittees use to try and avoid grizzly conflicts. They also endorsed mandatory rotational grazing.
However, Sommers – and earlier, Sublette ranchers Wardell and Noble – asked for more flexibility in the draft ROD, explaining that changing pastures outside of a prescribed rotation has prevented conflicts.
Sommers said, “There is not one thing that’s going to solve the problems.”
Wyoming Game and Fish Large Carnivore Specialist Zach Turnbull related that in the years he has worked with permittees to reduce grizzly conflicts, none have ever been had a conflict or been hurt or shot a bear.
Turnbull said carcass removal does not necessarily reduce grizzly conflicts, commenting, “Those conflicts haven’t gone away. They just moved to another allotment.”
Ratner said to O’Connor, “Theoretically, if we didn’t have livestock in the Upper Green, there wouldn’t be grizzly-livestock conflicts in the Upper Green. The problem is livestock grazing in grizzly habitat.”
“Point taken,” O’Connor said. “We will also have conflicts with people and vehicles and will try to reduce them where we can. I know of no one solution.”
No ‘one answer’
Sommers said cattlemen will continue to experiment with new methods to avoid grizzly conflicts and moving cattle to different pastures seems to help.
“We will continue trying other movement techniques. I don’t particularly want to see dead bears, and I don’t want to see dead cows,” he says.
“We do want flexibility because we don’t have the answers,” O’Connor said, adding BTNF manages for Yellowstone area grizzlies on much a larger scale than just the Upper Green.
BTNF’s proposed remedy is to change the draft ROD wording to make sure it provides “opportunity to move pastures to avoid conflict with large carnivores.”
With all of the objections discussed by noon on March 14 that O’Connor agreed to hear, she outlined the next steps.
She will meet again with the BTNF interdisciplinary team and email an “offer as a resolution and remedy” to objectors to see if their objections are resolved before formalizing it.
She would then issue an “objections response letter,” and Hoelscher would write another final record of decision.
Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, as well as a reporter for the Sublette Examiner and Pinedale Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.