BTNF cuddles ranchers on Upper Green
The Bridger Teton National Forest (BTNF) missed a chance to promote the public interest over private businesses when it decided in its draft management plan for the Upper Green Allotment to continue to allow ranchers to run livestock without any significant changes to protect the public’s wildlife and other values.
The Upper Green is perhaps the most important non-protected wildlife habitat in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Yet the BTNF treats it as if the best use of this land is as a feedlot for private cattle.
The grazing of alien animals like sheep and cattle harms public wildlife in numerous ways. Numerous studies have documented that cattle eat essentially the same forage as native elk, and socially displace elk when they are grazing an area. There is no way to graze domestic animals without compromising the ability of the land to support native herbivores.
Livestock trample our riparian areas harming fisheries. Livestock compact our soils, exacerbating drought conditions by reducing water infiltration. And let’s not forget that high concentrations of livestock pollute our streams with E. Coli bacteria levels almost always exceeding state water quality standards. And livestock are a major source of the spread of weeds, that we, the taxpayer, not the ranchers pay to control or must live with in the future.
Worse for our native wildlife is the fact that the Upper Green is a crucial wildlife corridor. It is regularly used by grizzlies, wolves and as a migration route for pronghorn, elk, and mule deer. The mere presence of domestic livestock creates massive conflicts and the Forest Service has done nothing to reduce these conflicts.
In the years between 2011 and 2015, there were 256 livestock conflicts in the Upper Green and Gros Vente River region. Some 17 grizzlies were killed for livestock depredations here accounting for 81 percent of all livestock-related mortality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem! That fact alone should be enough reason to terminate all grazing in the Upper Green allotment.
Yet, the BTNF, not only refuses to terminate livestock grazing here, it plans to allow continued livestock degradation, even refusing to mandate modest grazing management techniques that are known to reduce conflicts with public wildlife such as grizzlies and wolves.
For instance, quick removal of carcasses can avoid attracting grizzlies and wolves to sites being grazed by livestock as well as developing a taste for beef. Use of moveable electric fences can significantly reduce predator opportunities. In Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, such measures were adopted by ranchers in 2003 and by 2007, cattle losses to grizzlies dropped from 77 to 7.
Yet the BTNF dismissed out of hand such well-established effective measures as “too uncertain.”
What is certain is that without any changes in management we will continue to see public wildlife destroyed to accommodate the livestock industry’s business interests who are using our public property for their private profit.
If any private use of our public lands compromises public resources, the agency has a Public Trust obligation to put the public interest first. Unfortunately, in the case of the Upper Green Allotment, the BTNF has put the interest of private livestock businesses ahead of important public values like protecting endangered species, watersheds and soils.
The Forest Service justifies the continued degradation of public lands using the old tired pretext about multiple. Yet not every acre is suitable for all uses, and use of our public lands by private businesses is predicated on not compromising public values. Clearly, in the Upper Green region our national patrimony is being devastated by cuddling private businesses seeking to profit from the public trough.
The BTNF is accepting comments on its draft plan until November 21.
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Here is the link to the grazing document as well as the email address link to send your comments. They are due on Nov. 21.
Alternative 3 is the selected alternative by the Forest Service.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology
One Response to BTNF cuddles ranchers on Upper Green
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Exactly. Thanks George, for laying out the troubling realities of welfare ranching. I encourage everyone to reference and/or quote this article in their comments.