Bears lose to cows

Here is George Wuerthner’s take on livestock allotment planning on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The Upper Green Allotment is the largest Forest Service grazing allotment in the West. It is a mixture of aspen, rolling sagebrush/grassland, willow-lined creeks, intermixed with ponds, and springs.

It contains the best wildlife habitat outside of a national park. Home to grizzlies and wolves, endangered Colorado cutthroat trout, sage grouse, elk, moose, pronghorn, and various rare amphibians, among other outstanding wildlife values.

That is one reason why the BTNF Forest Plan has categorized 93% of the area as DFC 10 and 12 status where protecting wildlife values is the primary goal. Yet the FS manages it as more or less a feedlot for a few local ranchers.

Since 1995, 34 grizzly bears have been “removed” from the Upper Green River allotment. When I questioned why the public’s wildlife was being removed instead of private livestock using our public lands, I was shut down and told I wasn’t allowed to debate these issues.

According to the Forest Service,

The purpose of the project is to continue to authorize livestock grazing in a manner that will maintain
or improve resource conditions. The Bridger-Teton Land and Resource Management Plan … provides direction to support community prosperity in part through livestock grazing (Goal 1.1 and Objective 1.1(h),… in a manner that avoids unacceptable effects from livestock use on range, soils, water, wildlife, and recreation values or experiences …

The majority of the project area is in DFC 10 (approximately 66 percent). The area theme is an area managed “to allow for some resource development and roads while having no adverse, and some beneficial effects on wildlife.”  The management emphasis is to “[p]rovide long-term and short-term habitat to meet the needs of wildlife managed in balance with timber harvest, grazing, and minerals development.”

Grizzly bear management objective is to minimize the livestock related grizzly bear mortality.

All of the alternatives would permit more cattle to graze than has historically occurred (Table ES-2).  All of the alternatives would be likely to adversely affect grizzly bears, which also sounds like a conflict with the forest plan requiring management for no adverse effects.  Arguably, a “no grazing” alternative would not meet the purpose and need, but it looks to me like they haven’t considered a reasonable range of alternatives to reduce impacts on grizzly bears.

He’s got some interesting comments about the bias of range “cons” who “deferred to the ranchers:”  “I can also assure you that most range cons are “want to be” ranchers…”  My experience was that they were more likely to be “want to be” wildlife biologists.  In contrast my experience with foresters (other than myself) is that they like to manage forests, and “no-action” has never appealed to them much, maybe because “it would result in no reason for your position.”

2 thoughts on “Bears lose to cows”

  1. To the best of my knowledge the Upper Green has been actively grazed since the early 1900’s. AUMs across the west are roughly half of what the were in the 60’s but I do not know the particulars for these allotments
    Simultaneously (according to the author) it contains the best wildlife habitat outside of the park and yet it is annually trashed by livestock grazing. Home to many species and other outstanding wildlife values and yet it is annually trashed.
    As a current “Con”man I don’t ever remember thinking I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, like many other young boys the idea of being a cowboy was present. I do wear a cowboy hat in the summer to fight off skin cancer. But my boots are from Kenetreck. What I have found during my career was that many wildlife biologist could tell you what they wanted (populations, habitat) but offer little information on how to get there, other than remove all the cows, don’t log etc. In effect a very hands off preservationist style of management.
    This is of course a very broad statement, but since we are painting career fields with a broad brush.

  2. We can now say how many more grizzly bears will lose to cows on the Upper Green River allotments: 72 is the guess by the Fish and Wildlife Service of what the effect will be of the Bridger-Teton National Forest decision to continue grazing on these allotments. That’s enough for a number of parties to file a notice of intent to sue, claiming violation of the Endangered Species Act:

    In what may be a related development, the Bridger-Teton is also proposing to reactivate some vacant cattle allotments in the Upper Green on the Forest that could be used for temporary displacement due to grizzly bear conflicts (not “more cattle on the land — just more area”).

    In what may not be a related development (but is in the same article), sheep could lose to sheep. A restocking request for returning domestic sheep to two vacated allotments in the Wyoming Range hinges on changing the forest plan to deemphasize protections for the Darby Mountain bighorn sheep herd. This would purportedly be consistent with the State of Wyoming’s bighorn plans, but …

    “Bighorn advocates and conservationists who have watchdogged the restocking conversations wanted the Forest Service to instead deal with the issue in its forest plan. The years-long revision process was supposedly coming up, though O’Connor said it’s now indefinitely on hold. Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation Director Steve Kilpatrick said the Darby Mountain Herd deserves the longer, closer look.”

    I’m not sure the Forest is going to be able to do a “focused amendment” for this issue, since bighorn sheep should now be a species of conservation concern, which warrants greater attention. Maybe this is a case where the inability to revise a forest plan is going to cause some problems. Then there is the question of why these allotments were vacant. The permittees were “bought out” by the National Wildlife Federation (to protect bighorns?). Would they need to be paid back?


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