Green River Drift

Sherrie Butner drives cattle during the Green River Drift cattle drive in Sublette County in 2015.

Thousands of domestic cows paired up with their calves are on the go along the historic Green River Drift cattle drive, headed to expansive Bridger-Teton National Forest grazing allotments where they’ll spend the summer.

Environmental groups have been fighting in the courts to alter one element of Forest Service grazing plans — what becomes of grizzly bears caught killing cattle — and they had asked a federal judge for an injunction that would have stopped the lethal removal of bears until the case is decided. Western Watersheds Project staffer John Persell, who is among the attorneys arguing the case, heard from U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta on Friday. Their request had been denied.

“The court issues this order to remove any uncertainty about defendant’s ability to take nuisance grizzly bears from the Upper Green River Area Rangeland Project Area,” Mehta wrote.

The court, the Washington, D.C., judge wrote, would issue written rationale for its decision sometime this week.

That decision is a blow to environmental groups, which have filed two lawsuits challenging a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to allow up to 72 grizzlies — classified as a federally “threatened” species — to be “incidentally taken,” or killed, as a result of conflict with livestock. The Bridger-Teton’s 2019 decision to reauthorize cattle grazing allowed that many bears to be killed over the next decade. The first summer there were three grizzlies killed, which means that 69 more can still be killed between the 2020 and 2028 grazing seasons.

Cattlemen have contended that a prohibition against killing grizzlies could cripple their operations. Conflict has been chronic, with 527 cattle, almost all calves, confirmed killed by bruins in the span between the 2010 and 2018 grazing seasons. Some 35 grizzlies were killed in response during the same time.

“If you’re not removing them from the population, which is a nice way of saying killing them, what are you going to do?” Daniel rancher Charles Price asked the News&Guide. “They wanted an injunction to stop removing bears immediately, this season, and they had no plans to do anything with them other than musical chairs.”

Trapping and relocating bears has been a first option when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has dealt with depredating bears. If an animal returns and is again implicated in killing livestock, its odds of being put down increase.

Fish and Wildlife’s biological opinion imposes no restrictions on relocations, and the injunction sought by the Western Watersheds Project did not request that the judge restrict managers’ ability to haul conflict grizzlies to other parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

For that reason, Persell said, ranchers’ worries about effects on their operations were overblown.

“I think that if the judge granted our preliminary injunction for the duration of this case, it’s not going to have a devastating impact,” Persell said hours before Mehta’s ruling last week. “We narrowly tailored our request to still allow cattle turnout.”

Still, cattle ranchers like Price, whose cows are now on the move, said that seeking the injunction was a “foolish thing to do.”

“They didn’t have a good basis for it,” he said. “We’ve been killing grizzly bears, if you think about it, since 1999, 2000, and the grizzly population is still expanding.”

Price, a former Game and Fish commissioner, pointed to the grizzly bear recently confirmed on the forest north of Kemmerer, which is farther south than the species has roamed in the Lower 48 since settlers wiped them out of the area generations ago.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(11) comments

TERRENCE MILAN

Have to wonder whether the injunction applies to bears wondering onto the resorts around here. I think the policy is one strike. They put them in Idaho and if they come back, they become rugs or another ornament in a gift shop.

TERRENCE MILAN

I was watching a Public Programming program which featured an article about "The Drift". This is ritual that has gone on for generations. I was surprised that ranchers have said about oil companies. They were good neighbors and tried to work with ranchers when there were differences and The Drift continued. Now as land gets sold off, the good neighbor policy is gone. The new owners from parts you can guess are selfish and hard to deal with. You can observe that type of selfishness around here.

William Huard

Nothing Trump or the state of Wyoming does is level headed.

Please.

These are National Forests.

The Grizzlies and the Wolves belong there, not non native foreign cows

TERRENCE MILAN

The Drift has gone on for ages and there are still wolves and bears. More now than in years past. Ever consider that you might be the interloper? There are a bunch of states where you can move and complain about them. When the borders open again, you can move to the neighbor to the north and frolic with their bear population. And you can have Trudeau instead of Trump. What's stopping you?

Carol Deech

How crazy and stupid can Game &Fish be? If you keep killing them the longer they stay on the ESA. What a self defeating act. The cattle - ranching industry is the organization to blame for the continued listing of grizzly bears. They continue to fight This process by killing and believe this will alter any decisions to delist. I’ve never seen such a wasted effort and small minded organizations as the livestock industry. It is true that continuing the same act without results is the act of stupidity.

Ken Chison

Let's try again. How crazy and stupid can people be. Thinking that the Game and Fish have any say over grizzlies. They are federally controlled. The Game and Fish should get away from any interaction with these bears. The "judge for hire" took control away from the state and gave it back to the feds. Then the feds ask our game and fish to deal with them. At our expense. It's like having an unruly teenager and having your neighbor pay to fix the problem. Education is an essential tool before making off the wall comments.

Carol Deech

Actually Game and Fish have a lot of say since USFWS doesn’t want to do their jobs. Should the state receive more funding. YES!!

Ken Chison

Game and Fish has no say. As with JH mentality over police departments, defund the game and fish coffer for any grizzly management. When we have no cops, I will be fine off defending my cool things and family from those infringing on my stuff. Leave the bears to the discretion of the rancher that is seeing his "stuff" infringed upon. This defund thing is gonna be kick butt!

William Huard

His stuff being infringed upon genius?

These are National Forest Lands.

Self entitled ranchers graze on these lands.’

Why do we allow cows in these areas to begin with?

We shouldn’t.

There is no greater example of the mindless sniveled quite like Public Lands Ranchers!

Ken Chison

These are National Forest lands, genius. Are not ranchers part of that national thing you talk of. Plus, they are paying to have cattle there. As long as the cows stay, I will be allowed to recreate on my dirt bikes, side by side, truck and snowmobile.

Ken Chison

Great news! Looks like the enviros are having a tougher time judge shopping now that Trump is finally getting level headed, honest people into the courts now. Losses in court now mean these groups have to pay their own legal fees as well. No more billing the US taxpayer for their over inflated legal fees.

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