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Environmental groups file appeal challenging federal plan to kill 72 grizzlies near Yellowstone

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. (National Park Service)

CASPER, Wyo. — Environmental groups that sued the U.S. government in March 2020 are taking another swing at stopping a federal plan to authorize the killing of up to 72 grizzly bears to accommodate livestock grazing in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest near Yellowstone National Park.

On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club filed an appeal in their case that was dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Wyoming in May.

Forest officials decided in October 2019 to allow livestock grazing to continue across more than 260 square miles in the Green River headwaters of Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Associated Press reported. The conservation groups argue that grizzlies are often killed by ranchers and wildlife managers for pursuing cattle.

Biologists found that as many as 72 grizzly bears could be killed if necessary in the area over a decade without harming the overall grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone region, the AP reported in March 2020. The bears are classified as a threatened species.

The original lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith in U.S. District Court in Washington.

“We’re determined to stop this terrible plan, which could be a death sentence for dozens of Yellowstone grizzly bears,” said Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director at the Center. “The federal government shouldn’t be killing native species so the livestock industry can graze cattle on public lands for next to nothing. We believe the court’s decision was flawed, and we’ll continue to fight for the lives of these magnificent bears.”

The Center for Biological Diversity in a Thursday press release said the District Court erred when it determined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s analysis on the project’s impacts to bears was sufficient, although the court acknowledged the analysis lacked discussion on how many females could be killed during the project. The court ultimately held that the project would not jeopardize the grizzly population.

“The intentional killing of dozens of grizzly bears is a slap in the face to decades of recovery efforts in the Greater Yellowstone region,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for the Sierra Club in the Greater Yellowstone region. “We cannot allow these bears to be killed when a wide range of effective, non-lethal measures are available to livestock producers. The priority should be requiring and enforcing conflict prevention measures and promoting coexistence and safety for bears and people.”

The parties and court will next set a briefing schedule in the hopes of receiving an appellate decision before the grazing season begins next spring, the Center’s release states.