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Cattle grazing privileges in Upper Green River region are upheld in court

Theo Stein / USFWS

A recent district court decision had implications that upheld cattle grazing privileges in the Upper Green River area. But, environmentalists say this decision will have detrimental effects on the local grizzly bear populations.

Back in 2019, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service renewed cattle grazing permits on about 170,000 acres in the Upper Green River area. They also reviewed what impacts cattle grazing has on grizzlies – as there has been higher numbers of bear-related cattle deaths in recent years, which has caused some grizzlies to be euthanized or relocated.

The report determined the grizzly population can sustain 72 deaths within ten years.

Five environmental groups sued, saying the habitat should be prioritized for grizzlies. The groups included the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.

“The Forest Service and the livestock grazing permittees, they know that grizzly bears are in this area,” John Persell, a staff attorney with the Western Watersheds Project, said. “They know that this is grizzly bear habitat, yet they put their cattle up there in these remote areas. We disagree that the federal government should be subsidizing the livestock industry by killing these grizzly bears for their benefit.”

But, the court upheld that the grizzly population can sustain 72 deaths.

Jim Magagna, the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association and Wyoming rancher, said this was a “life or death” scenario for the local ranching industry.

“People tend to forget that if we lose the ability to have summer grazing upon those high allotments in the Wind Rivers, that means that the ranching operations are no longer viable,” Magagna said. “And we're going to see ranch lands being sold, and being subdivided at a loss for both wildlife and livestock ranching in Wyoming.”

Magagna added that the cattle drive that pushes the cattle into the high mountain allotments, The Green River Drift, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The inability to graze on these allotments would suddenly end the Green River Drift, and it would become a historical occurrence that no longer has any life in it,” he said.

Environmental groups say this decision means 10 percent of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies will die. The current estimated populationin the area is more than 1,000.

“I want to re-emphasize that we have hundreds of millions of cattle in this country – they are not under any threat of going extinct,” Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said. “But we have about 1,550 grizzly bears in the lower 48.”

Grizzly bears are currently listed on the Endangered Species Act, however, just this year Wyoming Governor Mark Godon petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from the list.

The environmental groups have until mid-July to appeal the court’s decision.

This copy has been updated May 30 to reflect that grazing “privileges” are not “rights”. The federal government does not guarantee the right for cattle to graze on public land, but rather it grants permits to cattle owners.
This copy was updated May 31 to include a link to the court case documents.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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