Upper Green grazing suit parsing agency records

SUBLETTE COUNTY – In 2019, a coalition of environmental groups filed objections to the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s decision to reauthorize permitted cattle grazing in the Upper Green River Rangeland Project.

After negotiations, the nonprofit groups were dissatisfied when Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher signed the final record of decision in 2019 and filed a lawsuit in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court in 2020.

One goal is to prevent lethal take of federally protected grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that traditionally prey on livestock on Upper Green grazing allotments. Another was to challenge the federal “biological opinion” and incidental take policy about how many grizzlies could be removed.

Summer grazing has continued on the Upper Green River rangeland during the court battle.

Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal presides over the case filed by Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uinta Connection. The parties named former Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Aurelia Skipworth and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Intervener defendants” include Wyoming, the Upper Green River Cattle Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Sublette County ranchers – Murdock Land and Livestock LLC, Sommers Ranch LLC and Price Cattle Ranch.

U.S. District Magistrate Kelly Rankin handles case details for Judge Freudenthal.

Much of the 2020 docket shows attorneys’ notices, motions and memos. A related case in a Washington, D.C. courtroom was transferred and consolidated in Wyoming.

Last month, the above federal agencies’ administrative records were filed.

On June 2, Magistrate Rankin ordered that parties could only quote from the FWS administrative record to challenge the 2019 biological opinion and incidental take, or the Forest Service record to challenge the agency’s final decision.

“The Court will not, however, expand the administrative record because the challenged agency actions are intertwined,” he ruled. He vacated pending motions and hearings, calling the case “very confusing and convoluted.”

The June 2 order will allow parties “to reassert the issues … associated with the administrative records. … The court is hopeful that starting with a clean slate will ensure that all arguments and requests are considered.”

It also sets a new litigation schedule.