The Bridger-Teton National Forest released its decision on cattle and horse grazing in a controversial area of public land just northwest of Pinedale.
The Upper Green River area rangeland project has been under analysis since early 2004. The Forest Service decision will continue livestock grazing on six range allotments. Those cover about 170,000 acres in what some contest is prime grizzly bear habitat.
Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the decision doesn't take into account any of her group's suggested mitigation efforts. Those included requiring livestock owners to carry bear spray when they are out in the field and removing carcasses as soon as they are discovered so it won't draw in grizzly bears.
"Every year we see more and more bears come into conflict with cattle, and the Forest Service and livestock industry are not doing anything to prevent those conflicts," she said.
Santarsiere said the contested area has the highest grizzly bear conflict in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem because of the livestock grazing. She said because this area is such prime habitat, the bears won't stop coming.
"They [grizzlies] are killed for coming into conflict, but then more grizzlies come in there because it's such good habitat. So it's a cycle that is not going to stop," said Santarsiere.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a biological opinion back in April on the effects the grazing plan would have on grizzly bears. It states that the grizzly population is expanding and as long as not more than 72 bears are killed within ten years, the population should not suffer.
Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity counter that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears are doing well but only because they have protections under the Endangered Species Act.
Santarsiere said the 72 bears that can be killed, "doesn't take into account multiple other decision in other areas of the ecosystem that also allows for lethal removal or killing of the grizzly bear. So at some point you've got this cumulative effect of killing this huge number of grizzly bears across the ecosystem that the population is unlikely to be able to sustain."
However, the Forest Service said the plan specifically includes mitigation efforts for grizzly bears because of the opposition the grazing plan revealed. Mary Cernicek, the public affairs officer at the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said the decision includes conservation measures to try to avoid grizzly bear conflict.
"Some of those included things like bear sanitation guidelines, where there [are] specific instructions for all the camps associated with the livestock operations to remove sick or injured cattle from the area so they don't become attractants," said Cernicek.
The biological opinion reads a little more complicated for the removal of carcasses. Dpending where the carcass is located, should be removed if possible or moved atleast 0.5 miles or 0.25 miles. It also includes recommendations that livestock employees to carry bear spray. Cernicek said the plan is fluid.
"The Forest in coordination with USFWS will be annually reviewing the effectiveness of those conservation measures and all the other management efforts that are outlined in that 2019 biological assessment as they apply to the allotment and describe all the progress for that area."
The decision uses livestock management strategies designed to sustain the rangeland and riparian health, while improving resource conditions where needed.
"It helps to have that balance struck between what's necessary to have with the resource, the wildlife and for the grazing to continue, which is so important economically and socially in that area," said Cernicek.
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