Photo: Erik Molvar
May 25, 2023
Today, Western Watersheds Project and our allies won our case on livestock grazing and livestock-related grizzly bear killings in the Upper Green River Valley, the eastern part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
The court determined that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion authorizing the killing of up to 72 grizzly bears over 10 years in response to livestock losses is “arbitrary and capricious.” The Service failed to impose a limit of the number of female bears allowed to be killed, even after admitting that losses of female bears poses a critical risk to grizzly bear population persistence. It also failed to address the fact that the presence of domestic livestock on public lands – and the number of grizzly bears killed for their benefit – made the Upper Green a ‘population sink’ in which the resident bear population couldn’t sustain itself and immigrating bruins faced an elevated risk of being killed.
Our plaintiff group also raised the issue that the level of livestock grazing authorized in the Upper Green was too high to prevent adverse impacts to native wildlife, and the court ruled that for migratory birds, the grazing was too heavy to comply with Forest Plan requirements based on a report prepared by its own biologist.
The court declined to vacate the decision, instead sending it back to the agency for corrections without blocking it in the interim, citing a controversial new legal precedent that allows courts to keep decisions in place even after they are proven to be illegal. The ruling requires a do-over of the Trump-era Biological Opinion, giving the current administration the opportunity to change the numbers and sexes of bears authorized to be killed, and will require reductions in grazing levels to meet migratory bird habitat requirements.
Thanks to our partners at Yellowstone to Uintas Connection and Alliance for the Wild Rockies for joining us in this major legal battle. The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club filed a parallel case with a subset of the same legal claims, and also shared in today’s victory.
P.S. You can listen to WWP’s attorney dominate the oral arguments in Denver last March, here: https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/sites/ca10/files/oralarguments/22-8031.mp3