Group files appeal of Upper Green decision

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Last month, ranchers whose livestock graze on the Upper Green River rangeland were relieved when a Wyoming judge ruled that federal wildlife agencies properly addressed Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears’ future while allowing up to 72 bears to be taken over a decade for conflicts.

The Secretary of the Interior, Forest Service, the Upper Green River Cattle Association and individual Sublette ranching families had faced the coalition of Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and other groups suing the Forest Service’s decision to reauthorize summer grazing permits for the mountainous rangeland.

The grazing decision, first signed by former Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher, relied upon federal documents – the Biological Opinion 2019 and “incidental take” statement – that outlined the protected grizzlies’ “incidental take” of 72 bears from the Upper Green’s permitted grazing allotments.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Management Team estimates the Greater Yellowstone Area’s grizzly population at 727 bears, well above the “endangered” recovery criteria of 500 bears.

The coalition argued the federal wildlife documents violated NEPA and endanger female grizzlies; U.S. District Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal dismissed its claims.

This week on June 10, the coalition announced its intent to appeal the judge’s order with a notice filed in the federal court by attorney John Persell.

“The livestock industry should be required to coexist with grizzly bears if they want to graze private cattle on public lands,” said Jonathan Ratner, WWP’s Wyoming director “It is absurd to kill wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act for livestock that graze on public lands basically for free.”

Ranchers must meet and keep certain conditions to buy and keep highly coveted public lands grazing permits – some of which sell at a premium in western Wyoming. Those who do acquire summer grazing permits then pay $1.35 per animal unit month to use the allotments. Permittees hire riders, repair fences and manage water and forage resources with federal oversight.

The appeal is against “the Opinion and Order dismissing Petitioners’ Supplemented and Amended Petition for Review of Agency Action, Docket No. 147, and the Judgment, Docket No. 148, entered by the Court in this matter on May 17, 2022, and June 1, 2022, respectively, as well as any or all issues or rulings adverse to Petitioners ...”

The appeal will be heard in the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver.