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Wyoming ranchers join lawsuit to appeal judge's grizzly bears decision

Written by Saige

The list of parties filing notices of their intent to appeal a Montana federal judge’s September decision that relisted Greater Yellowstone grizzlies has grown to include three states, interest groups and federal agencies.

One of them includes two local ranchers with Sublette County grazing permits as clients.

On Dec. 21, the U.S. government filed its notice of appeal in Missoula’s U.S. District Court for Montana against Judge Dana Christensen’s September order to return Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies away from states’ management back to federal protections. 

That notice is filed on behalf of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which released its final delisting rule in 2017 for the Wyoming, Montana and Idaho grizzly population it considers recovered.

The state of Montana also filed Dec. 21, and the state of Idaho filed the day before. 

Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) also filed its appeal on behalf of ranchers Charles C. Price of Pinedale and W.M. Thoman Ranches of LaBarge. Both wrote of serious depredation by grizzlies of their cattle and sheep permitted to graze on the Upper Green. 

MSLF represents the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (WyFB), to which Thoman belongs, and Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), of which Price is a member.

Jim Magagna, WSGA executive vice president, explained, “This is the 2017 suit that was filed in Montana by several environmental groups and several Native American tribes against FWS challenging the delisting of the grizzly bear.” 

“WSGA, along with WyFB, intervened in the suit because of the severe impact of grizzlies on cattle, in particular in the Upper Green,” he continued. “We asked Charles Price to be a named member of WSGA in the suit since he has personally suffered losses to the bear. WyFB did the same for the Thomans.”

Both Price and Mary Thoman filed affidavits in February supporting the two statewide groups’ efforts to keep the tri-state grizzlies in state hands.

Thoman ranches

Thoman noted her family mainly raises sheep that have grazed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) for more than a century. 

An employee was mauled in 2009, and that year, the ranch had 271 missing ewes and 263 missing lambs. 

The next year Thoman Ranches started using electric fences at night and saw grizzlies follow the flocks of sheep in the daytime, she said. In 2010, they lost 249 ewes and 174 lambs. Confirming the missing livestock as predator kills is very difficult due to difficulty finding the freshly killed livestock.

After following very stringent operating requirements for them, she said, Thoman Ranches “was forced to voluntarily relinquish its permits to the four allotments,” and with no suitable replacements, uses three separate pastures that are miles apart.

“If the final FWS grizzly rule were vacated, Thoman Ranches would continue to suffer from the increasing and unsustainable effects of the rebounded GYE grizzly bear population,” Thoman wrote. “If the rule were upheld, Thoman Ranches would be able to better and more safely operate.” 

“Additionally, transferring management of the delisted GYE grizzly bearto Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) would provide localized, specific conservation and management and allow Thoman Ranches a more localized recourse for addressing the safety and economic concerns caused by the rebounded GYE grizzly bear population.”

Impact to the Prices

Price’s affidavit is very similar to Thoman’s except that it focuses on damages to cattle run on the Upper Green River Cattle Allotment (UGRCA). He also cited missing and dead livestock that are not found quickly enough to confirm as grizzly kills.

“In addition to the direct loss of cattle due to grizzly bear depredation, grizzly bears regularly cause other indirect losses to ranchers, including loss of weight gain, which decreases the price the livestock can be sold for, cattle fertility problems due to the high stress of grizzly encounters and an increase in management costs,” Price said.

“Including my personal losses in 2017, the UGRCA had 71 confirmed grizzly depredations of livestock,” Price wrote. “In 2017, confirmed grizzly depredations constituted approximately 19 percent of all livestock losses.”

Price also advocated for WGFD to manage grizzlies and not necessarily by capture or kill, commenting, “WGFD is more than capable of relocating bears within the GYE for the safety of the bear and the individuals and livestock affected.”

The deadline was Dec. 24 to file notices to appeal Judge Dana Christensen’s order returning GYE grizzlies to federal protections of the Endangered Species Act.

Joy Ufford is a correspondent of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and editor of the Pinedale Times and Sublette Examiner. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.