Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding landscape is one of the most inhospitable locations in the Lower 48. Life for large mammals is particularly challenging given the frigid temperatures, deep snow and long winters. Summer is short and can be equally dangerous for the living due to wildfires, drought, and millions of tourists all trying to get that perfect “refrigerator shot” of a bison, grizzly, elk or some other wild critter wishing only to be left alone.
Since moving to Bozeman, Montana in 1986, I have had the privilege of working with some dedicated individuals and grassroots groups, all trying to protect nature (God’s country) in this amazing ecosystem. This running battle with the State of Montana, various federal agencies (National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service-USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-USDA (APHIS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a host of elite local and national NGOs that suck on an average day/year knows no end, and seems to have no bounds. And it seems to be getting worse, not better.
For example, here’s a brief rundown of a possible lawsuit in Wyoming against the feds for their wanton killing of grizzly bears on federal, public land. Why, you may ask yourself? It’s because bears eat seasonally permitted livestock when cattle ranchers leave stock wandering unattended on publicly owned, wild lands adjacent to Yellowstone’s Park boundary. Griz eat cattle, griz are killed by government agents. This is extremely rugged, wild country.
We’re trying to stop this insanity. One of the groups I’ve been involved with since its inception (1987) just filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue to overturn a huge livestock grazing (permit renewal) decision in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
My long-time friends and colleagues at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies joined forces with the Yellowstone-to-Unitas Connection and Western Watershed Project. The three groups just announced to the feds that we will sue the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to overturn a really bad decision authorizing continued cattle grazing that will result in the deaths of an estimated 72 grizzly bears in 60 days if the federal government does not substantially change or withdraw their decision. The October 2019 decision by the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s Pinedale District covers 267 square miles of national forests in the Upper Green River and Gros Ventre River drainages along the southern border of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
“It’s an astounding decision by the Forest Service since federal district courts have ruled twice now that grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem still need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in a recent press release. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 72 grizzly bears will be ‘incidentally taken’ – which means ‘killed’ — as a result of the Upper Green River grazing allotments between the 2019 and 2028 grazing seasons.”
Consistently the courts have ruled to protect the bears for very good causes. Due to isolation from other grizzly populations the Yellowstone bears may suffer inbreeding, which could lead to extinction of the Yellowstone Ecosystem’s distinct grizzly population. Illegal lake trout introduction in the Park has significantly reduced populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a traditional high-value grizzly food source. And finally, due to heat and extended drought the drastic die-off of white-bark pines has decimated the seeds, another high nutrition traditional food source, forcing grizzly bears into less secure habitat where they are often shot and killed.
There are tens of millions of cattle in America but only about 700 grizzly bears are present in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Scientists consider the protection of female bears to be crucial to the recovery and continued existence of grizzlies. Female grizzly bears do not typically give birth until five years of age. Because cubs stay with their mother for up to two years, a female only gives birth a handful of times her entire lifespan. Federal agencies have failed to consider the impacts of killing female grizzlies and the effect of that on the whole population.
“We’re challenging this project in court because there’s simply no way to justify the projected deaths of 72 Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears due to conflicts with domestic cattle,” concluded Garrity.
There are simple steps that ranchers and the federal government can take to protect range cattle from grizzly bears that don’t involve shooting every grizzly they see. The government’s grazing plan offers no non-lethal resolution of these persistent conflicts. The 60-day Notice gives the Forest Service an opportunity to correct these legal and moral deficiencies without resorting to a lawsuit. We truly hope the bureaucrats in charge withdraw the decision and look for an acceptable legal alternative to killing 72 Yellowstone grizzly bears.