Green River Drift: Court upholds historical grazing
A Wyoming Circuit Court approved the continued grazing of the Upper Green River area on May 17, ruling the grazing did not violate the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did take possible grizzly bears in the area into account.
Federal agency documents allowing the grazing were “supported by substantial evidence, and neither arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or inconsistent with law,” stated the court.
Sublette County ranchers are pleased with the approval and look forward to continue driving cattle along the historical trail.
“We are ecstatic with the ruling,” says Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association President Coke Landers. “It’s a great feeling to get a win in the books against these groups.”
Grazing cattle in the Upper Green River area is a tradition ranchers have taken part in for many years.
“Historically, culturally and traditionally, it’s where these ranchers have been going for over 100 years, for generations,” Landers says.
The tradition continues with 11 ranchers who make up the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association. These ranchers work to drive cattle from spring pasture in the desert to summer pasture in the forest, driving about 5,000 to 5,700 cattle through the area each year, he says.
The trail is about 58 miles long and typically takes ranchers two weeks to cover. The historical grazing is known as the Green River Drift, and the name comes from the way the cattle “drift” out of the forest back to their “home ranches” when colder weather rolls around in the fall, according to the Green River Drift website.
“The Upper Green is the largest common allotment and the longest running drive in the lower 48 in the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) system,” says Landers.
Environmental organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Alliance For The Wild Rockies and Yellowstone To Uintas Connection filed a lawsuit concerning the USFS’s authorization of continued grazing in the Upper Green River area. They were concerned grazing was negatively impacting grizzly bear populations.
Landers notes when grizzly bears have a human encounter and two livestock encounters, the FWS gives the Wyoming Game and Fish Department permission to remove them from the population.
“The Center For Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and other environmental groups felt like, because of cattle’s presence, there were more bears being taken out of the population,” Landers says.
Landers mentions grazing in the area is necessary for livelihoods, and local ranchers don’t have many other options than to graze on federally owned land.
“Sublette County is a little over 3,000,000 acres, and it’s about 83 percent federally owned, so without public land grazing, whether it be Bureau of Land Management or USFS land, there’s not a lot of options for ranchers in this county,” he shares.
Landers acknowledges the benefits of grazing, saying, “Ranchers need to graze on the land, it’s part of what keeps the land ecologically viable for future generations.”
He mentions local ranchers will continue to fight for grazing rights in the area and work to ensure the Green River Drift tradition will continue to go on.
“I think there will always be conflict in the Upper Green,” says Landers. “Right now, we are sitting pretty good, this lawsuit just goes to show we have been cooperatively monitoring our range with the USFS for over 20 years and we have pretty solid and sound data.”
“We have made adjustments where needed with grazing options and pressure points and things like this,” Landers adds. “It just goes to prove what teamwork can do and what a good solid partnership between the USFS and the permittees can get accomplished.”
Landers mentions his appreciation for agencies working with the association to ensure grazing continues.
“We are proud of our relationship with the USFS. We appreciate them immensely and their partnership with us in cooperatively monitoring,” he says.
“We also would like to give a huge shoutout to the Mountain States Legal Foundation,” Landers adds. “They’re a completely pro bono group that decided to take this fight and represent us. We are extremely pleased and appreciative.”
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.