Wyoming chalks a win for federal lands grazing
On Tuesday, May 17, a Wyoming Circuit Court agreed that approval of continued grazing in the Upper Green River area did not violate the Endangered Species Act and ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service properly took into account possible grizzly bears. The court stated that federal agency documents allowing the grazing were “supported by substantial evidence, and neither arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or inconsistent with law.”
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association said the win was significant for livestock producers.
“The Upper Green River Cattle Association and the grazing permits they hold up on the national forest used to be and I believe still is, the largest permit on the national forest in the U.S. in terms of acreage,” Magagna said. “They’ve been grazing up there for well over 100 years. The things they’ve inherited being there are wolves and grizzly bears, in particular grizzly bears were a protected species when the permits came up for renewal.”
At the time of the permit renewal, because grizzlies were protected, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed an analysis on the grizzly bear. They concluded that a certain number of the bears could be taken annually either through relocation or permanent removal. This move, he said, would meet the requirements of the grizzly bears as protected species and still allow beneficial grazing on the permit.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS GET INVOLVED
Magagna said when the report was released, environmental groups appealed the decision.
“The main challenge was that the grizzly bear analysis was inadequate but then they raised some other NEPA issues along with that,” he said. “We along with the Upper Green Cattle Association and a coalition of county commissioners in southwest Wyoming filed an intervention in that suit and have been interveners in it since the beginning.”
The ruling, he said, was entirely in their favor with the judge rejecting all of the challenges the environmental group had brought forward and upheld the USFS and USFWS plan in its entirety.
“That’s a win we don’t see too often,” he said.
There is a 60-day period during which an appeal may be filed with the 10th Circuit Court, though for now it ensures grazing will continue as it has for a century.
Mountain States Legal Foundation Senior Attorney Joseph Bingham said environmentalist groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity want the practice of grazing on federal lands ended. The MSLF represented WYSGA and other interveners in the case.
“The law requires the USFS to provide land for grazing, so they can’t try to stop that directly, so what they do is when the USFS grants a permit to graze, they sue claiming the USFS didn’t comply with the law in the process of granting the permit,” he said.
In this particular case, Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland, CBD claimed that the USFS did not adequately consider grizzly bear survival because the grazing allotments are located in the greater Yellowstone area.
“Because the grizzly bear population has been such a remarkable recovery success story, there are inevitably conflicts when grizzlies find their way to livestock and kill some, or there could potentially be conflict between the ranching personnel and the grizzlies,” he said.
He said the environmentalists claim that in light of the recovery of the grizzlies there are likely to be conflicts if grazing is allowed, therefore ranchers ought to give up grazing in the areas to allow for an indefinitely expanding grizzly bear territory.
He said a loss in this case would have potentially ended grazing in the Greater Yellowstone area on federal lands. CBD, he said, has utilized the same strategy in other areas with whichever species is available.
“The outcome of this case doesn’t determine the outcome of other cases but every victory like this discourages environmentalists from using the strategy and it encourages the forest service to continue complying with the law by providing for grazing because they can win one against the environmentalists, too,” he said.
The multiple use mandate requires that the USFS provide for grazing by balancing recreational opportunities with productive opportunities and conservation. He said environmentalists would prefer a single use mandate for conservation purposes only.
The presiding judge, the Honorable Nancy D. Freudenthal, is an Obama appointee who has ruled in favor of environmental groups in the past, including Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs here.
“What the court did here was to defer to the agency, and said the agency did its job considering all of the information,” he said. “It’s important for ranchers and industry groups to work together with agencies to ensure their decisions are based on complete and accurate information.”
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