Recently the Bridger-Teton National Forest released its final record of decision on livestock grazing on the 170,641-acre Upper Green River Allotment. The allotment includes the headwaters of the Green River north of Pinedale.

The Upper Green River allotment contains the most superlative wildlife habitat in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, yet the U.S. Forest Service treats this area as if it’s just another piece of public real estate.

The Upper Green is a pronghorn migration corridor, a calving area and winter range for elk, sage grouse habitat, and home to the Kendall Spring Dace, an endangered species, and Colorado cutthroat trout, a species of concern, not to mention lynx, wolverine, Columbia spotted frog, boreal toad and other species of special concern.

Livestock production contributes to the degradation of the habitat for many of these species. There are 58 miles of fences on the allotment, and the new management plan calls for installing another 10 miles of fence. Not only do fences inhibit migration and movement of pronghorn, but fences are a significant mortality factor for sage grouse.

The trampling of riparian areas and wetlands harms aquatic species from frogs to trout. Livestock manure pollutes our public waterways.

However, the biggest problem with the continued grazing of the Upper Green is it contains some of the best unprotected grizzly habitat in the ecosystem. And livestock operations pose the greatest threat to the grizzly use of this area.

Between 2010 and 2018 there were over 527 conflicts reported between grizzlies and cattle. During that same period 35 grizzlies were “removed” from the Upper Green River area. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the plan’s grazing is “likely to adversely affect” grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, the Fish and Wildlife biological opinion finds that as many as 72 additional grizzlies in the next 10 years are likely to be killed due to livestock conflicts on this allotment.

Why are we sending grizzlies to slaughter?

Why are public wildlife, namely grizzly bears, a species listed under the Endangered Species Act, being removed or killed to accommodate private businesses using public resources?

Putting cattle out to graze the Upper Green is analogous to putting out picnic baskets for bears to dine on. It invites conflict.

If I were to leave my picnic basket out for bears to find while camping in Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks, I’d get a fine. But if you’re a rancher you can put thousands of four-legged picnic baskets out for bears to find and consume without any consequence.

The Forest Service claims it has put into place some regulations to protect bears such as “advising” range riders to carry bear spray and requiring ranchers to move dead cattle away from roads and trails. Nevertheless, this still leaves carcasses out on the land, which can introduce grizzlies to cattle as food, which ultimately leads to greater bear-cattle conflicts.

The presence of cattle essentially displaces grizzly food as well. There is substantial scientific evidence that the mere presence of livestock displaces elk from its preferred habitat. The displacement of elk means bears are often left with nothing to eat other than cattle.

The district ranger is quoted as suggesting “Grazing is an appropriate use of the national forest and is important to the community economically and socially.”

However, not all uses are appropriate everywhere. The significant value of wildlife habitat in the Upper Green River area should make wildlife preservation the highest priority.

Ironically, the Forest Service justifies continued grazing in this area by exaggerating the importance of livestock production to the local economy. In Sublette County all agriculture contributes only 1.2% of local income. And the percentage of local income derived from cattle grazing the Upper Green allotment is some subset (less than 1%) of that amount.

By contrast, tourism contributes to nearly 12 times as much to local income. The degradation of clean water, wildlife, and intact ecosystems by livestock ultimately harm the tourist economy and the public’s property.

The Upper Green Allotment decision demonstrates that the Bridger-Teton ignores its public trust responsibility to put the public interest ahead of private business.

Livingston, Montana, resident George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books on natural history and environmental issues.

(4) comments

Maximilian Werner

Thanks, George, for continuing to draw attention to the folly of running livestock in these areas.

Ralph Maughan

Well thought, George, as usual.

Ken Chison

Now a comment from a Montana resident who, I would bet, has never stepped foot in the Green River country. Sorry to tell you, but, your Google searched numbers are way off. Cattle ranching is a large percentage of Sublette revenue and livelihood. The cattle were grazing these alottments long before the grizzlies were there. I challenge you to show me the pics of overgrazing and trampled frogs. I also have never seen a sage chicken stuck in a fence. As a matter of fact, the only sage chicken I have ever seen were on the main road. As far as tourism, I woulld bet the condition of the roads in this country deter most anyone from making it their vacation destination. This is where people that don't know history of a subject, push their thoughts on those that know, because they might have a piece of paper that says they know best. I know a long history of our land management operations. When the cattle and livestock are removed, public access is next in line. Stick to critical thinking in your own backyard. Like how to stop the spread of CWD from Canada before it infects our great herds.

Jay Westemeier

"The cattle were grazing these alottments long before the grizzlies were there".

This is a false statement that can be easily debunked. Grizzlies were abundant in the Upper Green River basin for centuries before the Wyoming cattle boom between 1868 and 1886 and the first appearance of large area ranches in the 1870's. I'm all in for natural grass fed stock, but only if the producers are required to operate under normal and unsubsidized expenses such as feed. Providing free grass to cattle and sheep producers might have been prudent during the civil war, but it's currently unwarranted and will continue to cause unneeded conflicts until more stringent regulations are placed on the dozen or so mega producers currently in the area. Throughout history, cattle ranchers have always offset stock losses due to predation with their subsidized (free feed) grass. Now, that cost offset isn't enough for those big producers. They've won their lobby for increased government assistance in ridding the area of endangered species that supposedly threaten their bottom lines, at the expense of wildlife, the environment and recreational activities of the public.

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