To protect grizzly bears, groups threaten to sue forest service over cattle grazing near Yellowstone

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Seven different conservation groups have sent a letter of intent to sue the United States Forest Service for ignoring thousands of acres of grizzly bear habitat to allow more cattle to graze near Yellowstone National Park.

The letter, which asks the National Forest Service to reconsider its action and puts the agency on notice, will expire at the end of June and is often the necessary prelude to a lawsuit.

Forest Service officials confirmed they were aware of the letter, but said it was agency policy not to comment on pending or ongoing litigation when contacted by the Daily Montanan on Wednesday. .

Environmental organizations say the US Fish and Wildlife Service, led by Montana native Martha Williams, violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing the expansion of cattle grazing in the Absaroka Beartooth Mountains, just north of Yellowstone National Park, in an area called “East Paradise Range Allotment”.

The letter says the US Forest Service has acknowledged that putting more livestock on the land would likely lead to more bear-human conflict and likely mean more grizzly bears would have to be killed. The letter said adding more livestock puts them directly into the “primary conservation zone”, also known as the “recovery zone”.

“The best available science reveals that livestock grazing in areas occupied by grizzly bears is a serious and substantial threat to the species and its recovery, often resulting in the mortality and elimination of bears and family units, including females with their young,” the letter reads. “The best available science reveals a significant increase in the number of grizzly bear mortalities attributed to livestock grazing in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem over the decade, even though the grizzly bear population has remained largely the same.”

The letter also paints a picture of grizzly bear habitat that is changing and will make these human-bear conflicts more likely. A loss of two main food sources for bears, cutthroat trout and whitebark pine, is making grizzlies more dependent on meat-based diets, the letter says. Groups believe grizzly bears will turn to livestock grazing to replace other lost food sources.

“For example, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Fish and Wildlife reports that from 1980 to 2001, nine grizzly bears were removed to protect livestock interests,” the notice reads. “From 2002 to 2020, this number increased to 128 management cuts. And those numbers are just the reported mortalities attributed to cattle grazing. »

The letter criticizes the service for not relying on the best science and jeopardizing the grizzly’s recovery while causing more stress by increasing the chances of human-bear conflict.

The letter, which was sent by the Western Environmental Law Center, was on behalf of the following organizations: Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Western Watersheds Project, Native Ecosystems Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Bitterroot.

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