Recently the Bridger Teton National Forest (BTNF) released its final record of decision on livestock grazing on the 170,641 acres Upper Green River Allotment. The allotment includes the headwaters of the Green River north of Pinedale, Wyoming.The Upper Green River allotment contains the most superlative wildlife habitat in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), yet the Forest Service treats this area as if it’s just another piece of public real estate.The Upper Green is a pronghorn migration corridor, a calving area and winter range for elk, sage grouse habitat, and home to the Kendall Spring Dace, an endangered species and Colorado cutthroat trout, a species of concern, not to mention lynx, wolverine, Columbia spotted frog, boreal toad, and other species of special concern.

Livestock production contributes to the degradation of the habitat for many of these species. There are 58 miles of fences on the allotment, and the new management plan calls for installing another 10 miles of fence. Not only do fences inhibit migration and movement of pronghorn, but fences are a significant mortality factor for sage grouse.

The trampling of riparian areas and wetlands harms aquatic dependent species from frogs to trout. Livestock manure pollutes our public waterways.
However, the biggest problem with the continued grazing of the Upper Green is it contains some of the best unprotected grizzly habitat in the ecosystem. And livestock operations pose the greatest threat to the grizzly use of this area.
Between 2010 and 2018, there were over 527 conflicts reported between grizzlies and cattle. During this same period, 35 grizzlies were “removed” from the Upper Green River area in the past decade or so. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the plan’s grazing is “likely to adversely affect” grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service predicts another 72 bears may be killed in the next ten years due to conflicts with livestock on this allotment.
Why are public wildlife, namely grizzly bears, a species listed under the Endangered Species Act, being removed or killed to accommodate private businesses using public resources?
Putting cattle out to graze the Upper Green is analogous to putting picnic baskets for bears to dine on. It invites conflict.
If I were to leave my picnic basket out for bears to find while camping in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks, I’d get a fine, but if you’re a rancher you can put thousands of four-legged picnic baskets out for bears to find and consume without any consequence.
The Forest Service claims it has put into place some regulations to protect bears such as “advising” range riders to carry bear spray and requiring ranchers to move dead cattle away from roads and trails. Nevertheless, this still leaves carcasses out on the land which can introduce grizzlies to cattle as food, which ultimately leads to greater bear-cattle conflicts.
By contrast, in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, ranchers remove all dead animals and have substantially reduced bear-cattle conflicts. Apparently the BTNF feels that requiring such removal on our public lands is too much a burden to put on ranchers in order to protect grizzlies.

The presence of cattle essentially displaces grizzly food as well. There is substantial scientific evidence that the mere presence of livestock socially displaces elk from its preferred habitat. The displacement of elk means bears are often left with nothing to eat other than cattle.
The District Ranger is quoted as suggesting “Grazing is an appropriate use of the National Forest and is important to the community economically and socially,”
However, not all uses are appropriate everywhere. The significant value of wildlife habitat in the Upper Green River area should make wildlife preservation the highest priority.
Ironically the FS justifies continued grazing of this area by exaggerating the importance of livestock production to the local economy. In Sublette County, all agriculture contributes to only 1.2% of local income. And the percentage of this local income derived from cattle grazing the Upper Green allotment is some subset (less than 1%) of this amount.
By contrast, tourism contributes to nearly 12 times as much of the local income. The degradation of clean water, wildlife, and intact ecosystems by livestock ultimately harm the tourist economy and the public’s property.
The Upper Green Allotment decision demonstrates that the BTNF ignores its public trust responsibility to put the public interest ahead of private business.

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

19 Responses to Final Decision Of Upper Green Allotment Harms Bears

  1. avatar Hiker says:

    All welfare ranching on public land must end! Where is the outrage from hunters and outfitters? Ranchers destroy more hunting opportunities then all predators!

    • avatar Nancy says:

      “Where is the outrage from hunters and outfitters?”

      Hiker – you’re not taking into account the history when it comes to predators and ranching practices out here in the west.

      First it was wilderness, then it was cows and then it was kill ANYTHING that interfered with raising cows; like elk, deer, predators. Meanwhile, get pissed off at hunters, you don’t want, trespassing on your property, then that “light bulb” moment when you realize that many of those hunters (or outfitters) will gladly pay (or do favors) to take out the ungulates AND predators (often anymore for sport or the fun of it) interfering with your ability to raise cows (or sheep, etc. etc.)

      Just saying, having spent the last 28 years out here, watching this unfold.

      • avatar Hiker says:

        Nancy, that’s from the ranchers point-of-view. How about modern hunters? They must have blinders on if they think ranchers benefit them.

        • avatar Nancy says:

          You are missing my point, Hiker. Where do you think all those modern hunters go these days to find elk and deer? If they aren’t hiring an outfitter who pays a rancher for access to their property, many depend on ranchers who don’t want elk eating their grass or getting access to public lands (through private lands) that are gated off.

          • avatar Hiker says:

            I see, and yet my point remains the same: welfare ranching is bad for hunters. There are many places hunters can go without hiring an outfitter or needing access from a rancher and those places get grazed heavily by cattle. The argument that hunters sometimes need access from welfare ranchers seems to cement my point. Get rid of welfare ranchers and those hunters no longer need to worry about access.

            • avatar Nancy says:

              “There is substantial scientific evidence that the mere presence of livestock socially displaces elk from its preferred habitat”

              Let that sink in Hiker. This is the situation in my area now.

              400 plus elk migrate into my valley every spring. They take advantage where they can of the early grasses on private lands (and many calve on those lands) because there’s still snow in the higher elevations. But, by the time they head for the higher elevations (public lands) they have little time there before thousands of cattle are pushed up there.

              I’ve noticed over the past few years their (elk) grazing habits have changed, hanging around on private land longer.

              Unfortunately some of the ranches in my area have doubled their herds so every private acre anymore seems to be covered with cattle.

              When fall rolls around these acres are still covered with cattle well into December, where normally in the past, cattle would be moved to the ranches for the winter, usually by Sept.

              Double whammy for the elk who are at this point trying to migrate out of the area for the winter and need to take advantage of the forage left.

              So hunting on these ranches has become the norm either individually (and with permission) or with an outfitter or… asking permission to get access to the public lands, that are on the fringes of these private lands (where a lot of elk are hanging out) as they migrate out.

              Sure you can drive miles & miles out of your way to public lands and then walk miles and miles back in to hunt or you can hope a rancher wants you on his property to curb his elk problems (and many do)

              Sorry if that seemed like a lengthy response, and don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see welfare ranching come to an end, just trying to describe how I see things and that is, many modern hunters just aren’t that motivated anymore, if they can bag an elk or deer within a mile of their rig (I see lots of hunters running up and down my road, pulling off to scope fields during hunting season)so why should they worry about the health of public lands and the wildlife on them?

              • avatar Hiker says:

                Nancy, I’m sorry about the state of your neighborhood, but you must know that there are literally millions of acres of public land that hunters have free access to across the West. It’s those millions of acres that are directly threatened by welfare ranching and where native wildlife are displaced and destroyed so a few ranchers can make a quick buck. My point is that, given all this, why aren’t hunters posting everywhere in protest against this system? If it’s as you say, that hunters don’t care, then those who care about the Earth are losing.

  2. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    Good point Hiker. Every time one sees a cow on public land that means that 5 antelope or 4 deer or one elk are going hungry.

    To end welfare ranching both the Taylor Grazing Act and the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act would have to be changed. This would require a rigorous analysis and a whole lot of activism to move law makers (especially republicans) off their butts to do something. This would also mean that a large number of so called environmental organizations would have to give up their fancy arctic cruises or their wine parties and get with the program.

    As an example of what is wrong here is an excerpt from US Code 4130.5 (3): this part allows “free use” of public range if certain conditions are met like in paragraph 3 which reads- “The primary purpose of grazing use is the control of noxious weeds”. Sooooooo! Holy cow pie bat man, the main reason there are noxious weeds on public land in the first place are the frigging cows.

    Of course if the government keeps spraying public land to kill off grasshoppers and noxious weeds with pesticides and herbicides cows won’t be fit to eat but neither will the game animals. Which brings up another little fact that most people will refuse to hear and that is: there are now experiments that show proof that glyphosate interferes with the enzyme that is supposed to digest malformed/old prions by making copper ions unavailable to that particular enzyme system. Oh well, there goes the neighborhood.

    It’s getting close to Halloween and here come the zombie prions.

    • avatar Hiker says:

      Yes, all the poisons are evil, however if modern hunters would wake the F**k up then they would be a powerful ally against welfare ranching.

  3. avatar Montana NAR says:

    170,641 acres. Hmmm, let’s ask:
    How many cow-calf units?
    How much is paid per unit per month? per season?
    How many individual ranches or ranchers benefit?
    Why do the people inside the good-ol-boys’ Ag-USFS-BLM Club continue to receive these subsidies at taxpayer expense?
    Do we know their names?

  4. avatar Werner Maximilian says:

    Thank you, George. You’re articles always inspire me to do more. I had a piece appear in the Billings Gazette and Missoulian about the lack of leadership when it comes to wolves, but it describes a world in which grazing on public lands still occurs. One day maybe that won’t be the case. But what do we do in the meantime?

  5. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    “Welfare Ranching”: the term indicates a very long standing problem with the grazing fees applied to federally managed range. When the Taylor Grazing Act was passed in the 1930’s the minimum allowable grazing fee per animal unit month was $1.35. If you compensate for inflation over the years, then today the grazing fee should be at least $25.00/AUM. Which it actually is close to on private lands in some states. But on federal lands it is still $1.35/AUM which means that in 1936 it would have cost just 7 cents. So what happened to the great ‘FREE MARKET’ that congressman like to brag about?

    To make matters worse, congress had a chance to correct this economic hypocrisy when the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 was passed, but instead they made it worse by stating that the base rate for calculating federal forage fees should be only $1.23/AUM. So it follows that these fees would never come close to those on private land. Obviously the tax payer has to make up the difference by supporting this outrage, because the BLM/USFS cannot make enough to support the range management program. Chris Ketchum did a good job of describing the problem in his book “THIS LAND”.

    And along with this economic madness is the fact that the BLM, USFS and also the USFWS are now destroying the productivity of the lands they are supposed to take care of by using toxic chemicals, heavy equipment,and GMO crops etc. which just set back ecologic succession and are leading to increasingly nasty consequences on lands we support with our tax money. So in a sense as Nancy points out, the animals such as elk, are like homeless people now, looking for a handout on private lands because federal lands have been so impoverished by years of “multiple abuse” management as George keeps telling us.

    As far as the hunters go, they seem to have little if any interest in ecology. Thanks to a lot of right winger propaganda, ecology is viewed with suspicion. The newer generations of hunters are mainly interested in keeping their firearms , shooting something and looking cool doing it.

    I suppose it’s not unlike some of the other ‘nuvo’ outdoor sporting types. They wear the clothes with fancy logos, have expensive vehicles, walk/ride around with any number of hi tech devices and don’t really give a damn about the land. They think Aldo Leopold was a washed up prize fighter.

    A few years back I spoke with some of hierarchy in the NRA and they just don’t think in scientific terms of improving the habitat. They think of it as using capitalistic techniques (such as modern corporate farming with GMO’s etc) to create a synthetic system which outputs increased numbers of critters like ducks to blow away in the fall. They just don’t get what is happening to natural systems and don’t seem to care.

    Folks may think that getting rid of Trump as “El-Presidentae” will fix things but he really represents the low point of what has been taking place for the last 40 years. So rejoice in every victory for the preservation of whats left of our wild heritage. There just cannot be too many of such victories these days.

    • avatar Hiker says:

      Bruce, I disagree with your generalization about hunters, I know several who I would call ecologists or even preservationists.
      Not so about welfare ranchers. I think many of them might believe they are doing good things for the land, but we know that’s crap. I do agree that the chances of changing that system seem slim. I wonder how the chances seemed to those who created the Wilderness system or the Clean Air/Water Acts? There is always hope, keep hope alive for those who read and don’t post here.

    • avatar Leslie Patten says:

      Great points and thanks for the detailed info on the Taylor Grazing Act et al.

      “Back country” is slowly becoming “front country” as ATV’s, logging, fly-overs for spotting and collaring and counts, as well as the allotments, encroach on quality habitat. Areas of less disturbance that wildlife prefer are vanishing. I’ve only lived in a backcountry area for about 11 years and the levels of noise and human interference has increased more than 10-fold.

      • avatar Hiker says:

        Leslie, all excellent points and all the more reason to protect Wilderness strenuously. Also, the very reason why welfare ranching must end, some of it occurs in Wilderness.
        Is that Wyoming Wilderness I detect from the photo?

      • avatar Nancy says:

        “Back country” is slowly becoming “front country”

        Good way of putting it, Leslie. Increased by 10-fold, also describes my area.

        And this is the latest mode of travel when people come to “enjoy” wilderness areas:

        https://www.sidebysidesports.com/

        They are loud and twice the weight and size of the average ATV. Might as well open the trails to trucks & SUV’s…….

        • avatar Hiker says:

          Nancy, wouldn’t those vehicles be illegal in Wilderness areas?

          • avatar Leslie Patten says:

            Yes, they are, but wilderness and backcountry have different meanings. I doubt our wilderness areas alone could support our wildlife as usually wilderness is high country and our wildlife migrates to lower elevations.

            Apart from a small amount of private lands, our valley is National Forest. But consider areas like WY beartooths which are a WSA but allow bikes and snowmobiles which were grandfathered in. Over the years I’ve watched logging increase because of beetle kill and fire pressure, ATV increase, bike riding in grizzly country increase, collaring of wolves, deer, elk; fly-overs all spring to count wolves in dens; coyote baiting and shooting to “increase” deer; higher cougar quotas; a vast increase in antler hunting even using dogs; a $5million WG&F 3 year project to re-route the creek; and the usual cattle everywhere. I see wildlife pressured (harassed) all year long.

            • avatar Hiker says:

              Leslie, of course Wilderness and backcountry have different meanings. One is a legal definition that highly restricts human activity the other is a term used to mean far from development. Both are home to abundant wildlife which are increasingly threatened by those things you list. I would change the order of your list and place cattle grazing at the top as the most serious problem that wildlife on public lands face. And all for the profit of a few welfare ranchers.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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