Across vast western range lands, America’s ranching families raise the livestock that feeds and clothes this country. Hundreds of miles away, environmentalist lawyers sit, plotting to seize control of the western lands where cattle and sheep have freely roamed for a hundred years and more. Ignoring decades of scientific research, those lawyers have already convinced a judge to put the fully recovered Yellowstone Area Grizzly back on the Endangered Species List. Now with a new lawsuit, the radical environmentalists are using the grizzly yet again to advance their political agenda. A victory in this case would potentially empower them to lock up federal land in litigation for decades. Radical environmentalists are using the grizzly bear — an icon of the American west — to destroy the ranchers who make up the very soul of the west.
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Currently there are six geographically distinct population areas for grizzly bears designated in the contiguous U.S. As a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, each geographically defined population has a unique recovery plan, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During both the Bush and Obama administrations, Fish and Wildlife officials determined that the Yellowstone Area population had met its population goals and was fully recovered. In fact, the government’s efforts succeeded… twice!
In 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service made an initial attempt to declare the Yellowstone grizzly a recovered species. That attempt was immediately challenged in court, and was ultimately reversed, putting the Yellowstone grizzly back on the endangered species list. After a decade, Fish and Wildlife officials were again prepared to take the Yellowstone Area Grizzly off the Endangered list in 2017. It should have been a time for celebration. “This achievement stands as one of American’s great conservations successes,” former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said at the time.
But environmentalist lawyers refused to accept the results of decades of scientific research. They sued the government again in the case Crow Indian Tribe v. United States of America and, again, convinced a federal judge to order the grizzly back on the endangered list — contrary to the recommendations of Fish and Wildlife scientists.
Emboldened by their victory in these cases, environmental extremists have filed yet another case over the grizzly’s status. This new case, Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, promises to give them unprecedented power to lock up federal lands, likely for decades, in litigation. For the environmental activists, it’s a power grab. For their lawyers, it’s the promise of a huge payday.
An extremist group that calls itself the Center for Biological Diversity is at the center of the two most recent lawsuits. Activist organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity are not only able to win large financial settlements when they win cases like these, but they are also able to use the cases to raise millions from their supporters. Environmental activism has become very big business.
Now, the activists are challenging the grizzly’s recovery plan, saying that they ought to be able to challenge a recovery plan designed by scientific researchers and wildlife experts in court. They also want to gain the power to sue to enforce a plan once it is in place. Currently, recovery plans are flexible by design. As unforeseen circumstances evolve over time, Fish and Wildlife officials are able to adjust a species recovery plan in the best interests of conservation.
If the environmentalist lawyers win this case, it will no longer be left exclusively to scientific experts and wildlife officials to design and implement a recovery plan for an endangered species. That power will, in all practical effect, be transferred to the lawyers and to the judges who will oversee the never-ending stream of lawsuits that follow.
Do environmental extremists really know more about the needs of the grizzly or any other species than the scientists who have dedicated their lives to research, or the Fish and Wildlife officials who actually live and work in the areas where those species live? Of course not. But the lawyers are, in effect, making that claim in this lawsuit.
Those activists make a big show of their concern for environmental conservation. But if conservation were their true concern, they would be celebrating the recovery of the Yellowstone Area Grizzly. Instead, they are using the grizzly’s recovery as an opportunity to grab more power in the courtroom and to make more money off their unsuspecting donors.
Much is at stake in this case. Mountain States Legal Foundation is representing ranchers and farmers in Wyoming and Utah, as we seek to stop radical groups from gaining new, unprecedented power to control environmental policy through the courts.