Two coalitions of environmental advocacy groups say they intend to take the federal government to court over a Bridger-Teton National Forest grazing plan expected to cause up to five-dozen grizzly bear deaths over the next decade.
It’s the 267-square-mile Upper Green River rangeland complex that’s in the crosshairs of two “notices of intent” to sue issued Tuesday. When the Bridger-Teton approved a long-term plan permitting the continuation of the historic grazing leases in 2019, an accompanying document called a biological opinion anticipated that up to 72 grizzlies — which are classified as a federally “threatened” species — would be “incidentally taken,” or killed, as a result of conflict in the following 10 years.
Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Andrea Santarsiere, of Victor, Idaho, signed on to one of the notices of intent to sue. She called the toll on grizzlies an unjust concession to one group using the forest: cattle ranchers.
“It’s just disappointing that the federal government is once again caving to the livestock industry at the expense of our public lands and native wildlife,” Santarsiere said.
Santarsiere’s employer is teaming up with the Sierra Club for its challenge of the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service were recipients of the notice, and they have 60 days to respond before the groups can then formally file litigation.
A separate 60-day notice, also filed Tuesday, came from the Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Yellowstone to Uintas Connection. The 15-page letter previewed what’s likely to be a wide-ranging legal complaint. The letter takes issue with female grizzly deaths in the Upper Green affecting the Yellowstone Ecosystem population, alleged violations of section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, “conservation measures” perceived as inadequate and other alleged shortcomings.
“There’s simply no way to justify the killing of 72 grizzly bears due to conflict with domestic livestock on public lands,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies Executive Director Mike Garrity said in a statement.
Comparatively, the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity’s complaint is narrower, consisting of a lone legal claim.
“It’s the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the project will not jeopardize grizzly bears and in concluding that they rely on these conservation measures,” Santarsiere said.
The conservation measures fall short she said because they’re written as voluntary and discretionary.
“The one that sticks out in my mind is the carcass removal requirement,” Santarsiere said. “It just requires them to move carcasses if they’re close to a road or campsite and they only have to move them a half-mile away. It’s a measure aimed at human protection — which is great — but it’s not going to do anything to protect grizzly bears.”
The Bridger-Teton National Forest received the legal notices this afternoon and are reviewing the documents, but declined comment on the pending litigation, spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said.
Upper Green cattleman Albert Sommers, a state representative for Sublette County, could not be reached for an interview Tuesday.
Copies of the environmental groups’ 60-day notices are attached to the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.