Judge finds no evidence Green River Drift harms grizzlies
During the week of June 7-13, the Upper Green River Cattle Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) and the Mountain States Legal Foundation saw a win after a federal judge rejected a preliminary injunction to prohibit the lethal removal of documented problem bears on the Upper Green River summer grazing range.
Following the win, local ranchers drove their cattle across nearly 60 miles of rugged Wyoming terrain to summer range in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, just as they have for over 120 years, under a new federal law allowing the killing of up to 72 grizzly bears for a 10-year period.
On June 19, the judge shared his reasoning on why he refused to halt the killing of grizzly bears, takings which have protected the historic Green River Drift for over a century.
Plaintiffs presented no evidence
In the case, Western Watersheds Project et al. v. Bernhardt et al., conservation groups sued U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, claiming the grazing plan associated with the Green River Drift violated the Endangered Species Act, among other laws, in part because it did not limit the removal or killing of female grizzly bears.
Therefore, the conservation groups sought an injunction to immediately stop the killings and removals.
“The nonprofits Western Watersheds Project, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection and Alliance for the Wild Rockies have not offered evidence of a certain and great harm likely to occur while the case wends its way through court,” said U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta. “In past years, an average of 0.7 female grizzly bears a year have been removed from the Upper Green River grazing area. This suggests the taking of more than one or two female bears during the pendency of this case is unlikely to occur.”
Mehta noted, “The conservationists did not convince me the killing of a single member of a threatened species constitutes irreparable harm, especially where, as here, the grizzly bear population has been growing for years.”
Other safeguards in place
In reaching his conclusion, Mehta wrote wildlife managers have several safeguards in place to ensure the removal or death of female grizzlies to protect livestock does not endanger the Yellowstone Ecosystem population of an estimated 728 bears.
“The lethal taking of nuisance bears is a last resort,” Mehta said. “There are many checks in the process to ensure the killing of such a bear, especially a female, cannot be a spur of the moment decision.”
Among the alternatives are trapping and relocating grizzlies suspected of eating cattle.
“WSGA welcomed the common sense analysis by the Federal District Court denying a preliminary injunction in the Upper Green litigation. While an injunction would have still allowed the permittees to use the allotments in 2020, it would have forced them to place their cattle at far greater risk without any ability for lethal removal of problem bears,” commented WSGA Executive Director Jim Magagna.
He continued, “We now look forward to the opportunity to convince the court the grizzly bear take level, authorized in the Biological Opinion, poses no threat to the viability of the bear population.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.