Montana’s Paradise Valley is aptly named, located between two towering mountain ranges, it cradles the mighty Yellowstone River which flows from its source in America’s first national park and provides critical habitat for native species still present 200 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Still, the Forest Service decided to expand cattle grazing on six patches on the east side of the valley, including a grizzly bear recovery area. It’s a formula for the destruction of native vegetation, sedimentation in cutthroat spawning streams, and dead wolves and bears – which is why the Western Environmental Law Center represents the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Native Ecosystems Council and other conservation groups in a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Montana on Sept. 12 challenging the agency’s decision.
In addition to several of the subdivisions located within the grizzly bear “recovery zone”, the agency has also expanded the area and extended the grazing season, putting the bears at increased risk of being killed in response to a foreseeable conflict with private for-profit companies. cattle farms.
The six grazing patches are just north of the Yellowstone National Park border and encompass part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in an area of significant habitat connectivity. Providing safe travel corridors between the Yellowstone ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem is critical to grizzly bear recovery. The Forest Service decision places private cattle in the public national forest a month earlier in the spring, when calves are still very small and tempting targets for grizzly bears starving for food after waking up from a long nap winter.
The Forest Service based its analysis on baseline population data from 1998 when there were few grizzly bears north of Yellowstone National Park and before climate change decimated whitebark pines, whose nuts have always been the main food source for grizzly bears. Illegally introduced lake trout have also decimated Yellowstone’s once-abundant native cutthroat trout, which provided a protein-rich food source for bears but are now threatened with extinction.
It’s not 1998, it’s 2022. A quarter century later, Yellowstone grizzly bears have expanded their range in search of food to replace Yellowstone’s whitebark pine nuts and cutthroat. As a result, more grizzly bears live in the Montana portion of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, including the vast Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness area where some of the grazing allocations are located. It is imperative that the Forest Service analyze the impact of the grazing decision on the current conditions grizzly bears face today. If you don’t, government and private ranchers will kill far too many grizzly bears every year.
Scientists estimate that 46,500 to 72,200 grizzly bears ranged over a million square kilometers in the west when European settlers arrived more than two centuries ago. Today, about 1,550 grizzly bears occupy only 3% of their former range in five demographically isolated populations in the Northern Rockies that face threats from inbreeding.
One of the main obstacles to grizzly bear recovery is having one connected and genetically healthy population, not five isolated inbred populations. Due to physical disconnection from other populations, Yellowstone grizzly bears remain vulnerable to inbreeding and continue to need the legal protections of the Endangered Species Act.
As grizzly bear range expands, the most promising corridor for reconnecting Yellowstone bears with other populations is the area including and surrounding the Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness Area at the park’s northern border. Yellowstone National.
In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Fish and Wildlife reports that from 1980 to 2001, of the 191 total grizzly bear mortalities, 82% or 156 were human-caused mortalities. Of those 156 grizzly bears killed, nine bears were killed to protect livestock interests.
From 2002 to 2020, however, the numbers have increased significantly. Of the 563 grizzlies that died, 86% or 483 were killed by humans. Of those 483 grizzlies killed by humans, 122 bears were killed to protect livestock – more than one in four! In Wyoming’s Upper Green River Pastures on the south side of Yellowstone, the Fish and Wildlife Services recently authorized the culling of 72 grizzly bears over 10 years to protect livestock.
We need help to do everything we can to achieve safe travel corridors and the highest level of safety for grizzly bears instead of putting them at risk of being killed because the Forest Service places more private livestock, many owned by billionaires, in grizzly bear recovery areas in the National Forest owned by all Americans.