For now, the U.S. Forest Service can continue its grazing plan that includes removing grizzly bears from the Bridger-Teton National Forest in response to conflicts with livestock, a federal court decided.
Plaintiffs challenged the Forest Service’s decision, made upon consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to allow the removal of up to 72 grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) from the Yellowstone area over the next 10 years as part of a livestock grazing program.
With the grazing season beginning, the plaintiffs — the Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection — requested an injunction to temporarily prevent the Forest Service from allowing the removal of bears as a result of conflict with livestock along the Upper Green River Area Rangeland Project, until a decision can be made in the case.
Plaintiffs argued that the agency should have capped the number of female bears that could be removed to protect the continued existence of the species. The court, however, declined to issue the injunction, noting that plaintiffs did not meet the standard for an injunction, which is to demonstrate that without it, there would be irreparable harm.
The court reasoned that while bears may be removed in the interim before the case is decided, there is no way to know how many will be female. Also, given that the grizzly population in that area continues to increase, any removals that occur before the case is decided are unlikely to jeopardize the species’ survival.
The grazing plan for Upper Green area was finalized last year. It authorizes annual grazing from mid-June to mid-October of approximately 8,819 head of livestock through 2028 on a total of about 170,000 acres and the removal of up to 72 grizzlies over the life of the plan.
Approximately 700 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes parts of northwest Wyoming, southwest Montana and eastern Idaho. Grizzly bears throughout the contiguous United States were first listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. The listing classification was later modified to include several different populations. As of 2018, there are about 1,800 grizzly bears combined in the contiguous U.S.
The Service announced its intention to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population in 2017, but that decision was challenged in court. The case is currently pending in a federal appeals court. The Wildlife Society endorsed the USFWS’ 2017 proposal to delist the Yellowstone-area grizzly bears, “so long as recovery targets continue to be met and demographic rate thresholds are maintained.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released plans earlier this year to begin a five-year status review of grizzlies in the contiguous United States.
In a separate lawsuit, also filed in March, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club challenged the same grazing plan. The plaintiffs in that case have not sought a preliminary injunction, and that case is still pending.
This article was first published by The Wildlife Society on 1 July 2020. Lead Image: A federal court has upheld the ability of the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to remove grizzly bears from the Bridger Teton National Forest. Credit: Frank van Manen / USGS.
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