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10th Circuit rejects authorization to kill up to 72 grizzlies in Wyoming under grazing program


10th Circuit rejects authorization to kill up to 72 grizzlies in Wyoming under grazing program

May 27, 2023 | 3:41 pm ET
By Blair Miller
10th Circuit rejects authorization to kill up to 72 grizzlies in Wyoming under grazing program
A grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. (Photo by Frank van Manen / USGS / Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 / Unedited)

A ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday will protect up to 72 grizzly bears in the Bridger-Teton National Forest area in Wyoming from being killed after the court found the 2019 culling authorization violated the law.

The court found that the authorization to try to allow a 10-year livestock grazing period in the Upper Green River Area Rangeland, south of Yellowstone National Park, did not follow federal law because U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act and National Forest Management Act in not considering how many grizzly sows could be killed before it threatened the population, nor did it take into account impacts on migratory bird populations.

The authorization would have allowed up to 72 grizzlies to be killed over 10 years to try to cut down on grizzly depredation of the livestock, but the appeals court’s ruling sends the authorization back to the agencies “to address the deficiencies,” the court wrote in its opinion.

After the program was authorized, two collectives including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection sued in March 2020 to block the authorization on grounds it violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The U.S. District Court of Wyoming consolidated the lawsuits and in May 2022 rejected the claims by the environmental groups, who appealed to the 10th Circuit and received their ruling overturning the district court’s decision Thursday. The court called several of the steps made by the federal government in authorizing the program “arbitrary and capricious.”

Megan Backsen, the appeals attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, called the court’s decision a victory for grizzlies and wildlife in the area.

“The court recognized that the Forest Service cannot ignore its own experts, particularly when those experts warn that a decision will harm those species that depend on intact ecosystems for their very survival,” Backsen said in a statement.

Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the decision was important as grizzlies are being considered for delisting in parts of Montana, and have been considered for delisting in parts of Wyoming.

The groups that sued said the Forest Service had ignored its own plans and data from the groups about population degradation of grizzlies – especially in an area zoned in the Forest Plan for a wildlife protection emphasis.

“We’re hopeful that in reconsidering their flawed analysis, the agencies will spare dozens of female grizzly bears previously sentenced to death by the Trump administration,” said Andrea Zaccardi, the legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity’s carnivore conservation program. “This ruling confirms that federal officials can’t sidestep the law to allow grizzly bears to be killed on public lands to appease the livestock industry.”