By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
In more of the same-old-predictable strategy, there have been two notices of intent to sue over conflicts between grizzly bears and cattle in the Upper Green River region of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Here’s a quick overview of that issue, then we’re taking a deep dive into who is threatening to sue.
As the Forest Service authorized continued livestock grazing in the Upper Green, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biological Opinion concluded: “In this biological opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) concludes that the anticipated adverse effects resulting from the issuance of grazing permits by the Forest for the Upper Green River Rangeland Project (the proposed action) for a period of 10 years (2019 through 2028) will not jeopardize the continued existence of the grizzly bear.
The Service reached this conclusion after reviewing the rangewide status of the species, the environmental baseline within the action area, and evaluating the effects of the proposed action and cumulative effects. The grizzly bear population within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has exceeded recovery goals and continues to expand into new locations, including into the Allotments.
The recovery and continued population expansion has occurred concurrent with the Forest implementing many of the actions described in the FEIS. This means historical activities, which are comparable to the proposed action, have had little to no discernible effect on the population’s trend toward recovery, and we do not expect continuation of these activities to reverse the trend.
“Based on population trends and the number of removals over the last nine years, the incidental take statement exempts a total of 72 grizzly bear mortalities over the 10-year timeframe of the proposed action. … Although we anticipate some level of take of grizzly bears primarily due to management removal within the allotments, it is our opinion that the proposed action will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of grizzly bears.”
Notice to Sue
The first notice of intent to sue comes from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, and Western Watersheds Project (WWP).
The second notice comes from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.
While most of these groups are familiar, a few aren’t so recognizable. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies is an admittedly small group based in Montana, with one staffer (Michael Garrity) and with a Board of Advisors that includes Earth First! co-founder Howie Wolke (who spent six months in a Sublette County jail a few decades ago after pulling up survey stakes for a drilling location in the Hoback), and anti-grazing activist and writer George Wuerthner. So that group is a good fit with their partners at WWP.
The Yellowstone to Uintas Connection (Y2U) is a relatively new name, so I did a quick internet search that took me down a rabbit hole. Y2U opposes livestock grazing in the Upper Green.
According to an article, Jason Christensen is the Y2U director, and is the foster son of anti-grazing activist John Carter.
Carter served on the board of WWP for years, and is now part of an effort to get the US Forest Service to regulate the use of livestock guardian dogs as part of livestock grazing permits, and is pushing for state laws requiring working dogs be spayed, neutered, microchipped, undergo mandatory veterinary checks, etc. Considering Carter’s long-time activism against livestock grazing, some may hold skepticism for his motivations.
The article noted that Carter lives “with his dogs on a 824-acre conservation easement created by Y2U in Paris, Canyon Idaho. The property, dubbed Kiesha’s Preserve is explained on the website kieshapreserve.org.” That website notes: “Going forward, as we acquire additional funding, more land will be purchased and set aside in conservation easements. This will ensure permanent protection of the Preserve and enable it to continue to provide essential ecosystem services to the surrounding communities.”
The preserve appears to be mostly serving as a private preserve for Carter, but it accepts financial contributions which its website notes are not tax deductible. The preserve website adds, “You can also support our work with our partner Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, for example, our Forest and BLM road closure and fencing projects. These are tax-deductible.”
Thus,Y2U uses tax-deductible contributions to retrofit the preserve’s fences for Carter’s private playground. And one of the Y2U board members is a fencing contractor. According to the preserve’s website, they’ve spent about $150,000 on the preserve’s fences so far.
Who is on the board of Y2U? The eight-member board includes: John Carter; retired Florida real estate saleswoman Susan Warren; Warren’s Alaska-based son Guy Warren; retired Utah State University wildlife ecologist turned cattle-critic Barrie Gilbert of Canada; Paris, Idaho-based fencing company owner Jeremiah Mattson; political activist Jack Greene of Utah; and two other people who also serve on both the board and staff.
The Y2U six-member staff includes three people who also serve on the board. John Carter is listed as both a staff member and a board member. Carter’s foster son Jason Christensen, the director of the organization, is a staff member also, as is his wife Kandis.
According to Y2U’s 2018 tax filing (the most recent year available), Carter’s son and daughter-in-law were paid staff members for the organization, and of the organization’s $90,000 in revenue received that tax year, $70,000 went to salaries or other compensation for staff, while another $4,000 went to professional fees or payments to independent contractors.
Who owns the Preserve?
That Carter lives on a 824-acre preserve “created by Y2U” (a group that Carter founded, and for which he serves on both board and staff, and two of his family members are also listed as staff) was intriguing, so I searched further. Y2U claims that it “created” the preserve, and “manages” the reserve where Carter lives. But recent tax documents indicate Carter still owns the property.
I found a document that Carter had written that describes his purchasing a 20-acre rural subdivision parcel, then was disgruntled that other people could do the same, so he started buying more parcels.
The undated prospectus document explains “I am seeking funding to retire the development rights and place the property into a conservation easement.” Carter provided a sworn statement to a federal court about his ownership of the preserve last year.
In a 2017 letter to the U.S. Forest Service from the Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, Y2U noted it also represented “KM Ranch LLC, owner of 914 acres of private land along the Paris Canyon trailing route to the project area. Most of this property is set aside in a conservation easement to protect and restore the winter range and sage grouse habitat that occurs therein.”
According to Utah public records, KM Ranch, LLC was registered in Utah from 2007 through 2016, doing business as Kiesha’s Reserve, and was voluntarily dissolved at that time, at which point it became registered as a business entity in Idaho.
John Carter is the registered agent for KM Ranch, LLC in both states. While in Utah, the mailing address for this business entity was the same as Y2U’s address, and in Idaho, the address between the business entity, John Carter, Kiesha’s Preserve, and Y2U are all the same.
It is unclear what entity holds a conservation easement for the preserve property. Idaho tax records reveal tax assessments were issued to KM Ranch, LLC in 2018, covering about 12 parcels totaling 867 acres, and mailed to the Carter/Kiesha’s Preserve/Y2U address in Paris, Idaho.
Y2U’s website claims Kiesha’s Preserve totals 1,034 acres protected through conservation easements and “The preserve is now managed by Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.”
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.