Upper Green grizzly bear conflicts

Environmental groups have asked a judge to rule quickly on a case challenging federal wildlife officials' recent decision to allow up to 72 grizzlies to be killed over a decade on the immense Upper Green River Range complex.

Cattle grazing the Bridger-Teton National Forest along the vast, forested plateau bridging the Gros Ventre and Wind River ranges have proven to be reliable summertime food for grizzlies, and every year bears are killed in response to the conflict. Late last month the Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection challenged the snowballing grizzly deaths. Then last week, they asked U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta for a preliminary injunction.

“Obviously, we hope that the court rules on the merits of our case, and before 10 years passes and theoretically 72 bears would have been killed,” Western Watersheds Project attorney John Persell told the News&Guide. “But in the interim, we’re asking for the court to direct the agencies to not kill any bears.”

The plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction asks Mehta to act before the Upper Green cattle are herded to the six allotments this summer.

“We do expect to have a decision before June 14 on this motion,” Persell said.

The groups are not asking the court to keep cows off the land.

Because grizzly bears are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, federal officials must estimate how their actions incidentally kill the large carnivores. When the Bridger-Teton OK’d the historic Upper Green grazing operation for the long haul in 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated and authorized up to six-dozen grizzlies being killed as a result. During the last grazing season three bruins were killed for their propensity to kill calves, which means that 69 more can still be killed between the 2020 and 2028 grazing seasons.

Federal and state wildlife officials declined an interview for this story, citing the pending litigation. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy supervisor for Wyoming, Nathan Darnall, told the News&Guide last fall that the predicted mortality did not jeopardize the population of 700-plus grizzlies that dwell in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Read the full story in this week's edition of the News&Guide, on newsstands now. Value local journalism? Subscribe for $1 a week. 

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.

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