Our client Mary A. Thoman, a Wyoming rancher whose family has raised sheep in western Wyoming for nearly seven decades, had to give up her family grazing land after her livestock losses to the grizzly bear became too great. One of her ranch hands was nearly killed in an attack. U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen issued a decision September 2018, invalidating the delisting of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear and returning the bear to the endangered species list—contrary to the recommendation of 20 years of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service research and the pleas of ranchers and citizens of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. This makes it impossible for local and state officials to manage the growing grizzly population, and virtually guarantees more loss and death.
The judge’s ruling strips state and local authorities of their ability to manage the bear population. After all, the Endangered Species Act provides that, once a species has recovered, as has the grizzly bear near Yellowstone National Park, it will be returned to state management as are all non-listed species. Instead, it puts all the power into the hands of the federal government. And it almost certainly increases the odds of grizzly encounters with humans.
“This ruling will allow the grizzly population to continue to grow unfettered under federal management, endangering the lives and livelihoods of westerners who settled the region long ago,” said Cody Wisniewski of Mountain States Legal Foundation, lead attorney on the case.
Tragically, just before Judge Christensen issued his decision in the case, a Wyoming hunting guide working in the Teton Wilderness lost his life in a horrifying grizzly attack.
The story was every outdoorsman’s nightmare. 37-year-old Wyoming hunting guide Mark Uptain was tracking an elk when he and his client were attacked by a pair of bears. Despite having a pistol on hand, they were unable to defend themselves. Uptain lost his life in the tragic attack.
Ranchers in western Wyoming know the dangers all too well. They have faced mounting losses to their sheep and cattle in recent years and have faced more frequent attacks on humans as the grizzly population has continued to swell in number and expand its territory.
It’s easy for extreme environmentalists from out-of-state to make bold proclamations what ought to be done to manage the grizzly bear. They don’t have to live with the grizzly in their backyards.
Area residents concerned about this growing threat had hoped for a better result in court. They don’t want to abolish the grizzly. They simply want to keep the population from growing beyond the level that federal scientists and researchers recommended. They understand that de-listing the grizzly from the endangered species list would allow state and local wildlife officials to manage the bear population and reduce grizzly attacks.
Due to the heavy penalties associated with the Endangered Species Act, Mary A. Thomas is afraid to give her ranch hands firearms. Instead she sends them out onto the range armed only with pepper spray. Ranchers like her have been attacked and have lost millions of dollars worth of livestock.
“I am afraid that the Western way of life will be lost for future generations,” wrote MSLF client, Mary A. Thomas, in an op-ed published in USA Today.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone area grizzly from the endangered species list in 2017, after research showed that population numbers in the region had climbed to at least 700, from a low of 136 recorded in 1975.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke about the 2017 delisting.
The court’s decision to ignore this achievement and put the grizzly back on the endangered list is disappointing. It puts the agenda of well-financed special interest groups ahead of westerners who live and work in constant fear of this apex-level predator.