Two wildlife advocacy groups are appealing a federal ruling that would allow the killing of more than 70 grizzly bears near Yellowstone National Park, a move hailed by the executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates.
Kristin Combs of WWA told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that despite repeated assurances from various state officials that the grizzly bear population in Wyoming is stable, the species is still far from being recovered.
“Populations are genetically isolated from one another, there are only 1,000 bears at most in the two largest recovery areas each and mortality rates are increasing, as are conflicts,” Combs said Friday. “Until our communities are successfully living alongside bears with low levels of mortality, we can’t call recovery complete.”
On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club filed an appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling that authorized the killing of up to 72 grizzlies to accommodate livestock grazing in Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Yellowstone.
The two groups argued that the court erred by finding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s analysis of the proposal’s impacts to bears was legally sufficient. The groups pointed specifically to the court’s recognition that the agency’s analysis lacked a discussion of how many females could be killed under the project.
In the initial court hearing, the groups argued that proposed mitigation measures included in the plan were insufficient to protect grizzly bears because they were vague, unenforceable and uncertain to occur.
The court countered that the project would not jeopardize the grizzly bear population even if the mitigation measures do not occur.
The plan was approved during former President Donald Trump’s administration. The groups also filed a lawsuit challenging the federal plan in 2020.
“If half of the 72 bears that are allowed to be killed over the next ten years in the Upper Green, or even if a third are, that will have a significant effect on grizzly populations in Wyoming and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Combs said.
She added that grizzlies are one of the slowest reproducing mammals and cubs can have a poor survival rate.
“Adult female mortality, and males too, combined with natural mortality and increased mortality from conflicts with humans, don’t paint a picture of a thriving and growing grizzly bear population,” she said. “Communities across Wyoming are unprepared to live with grizzlies and livestock producers continue to rely on lethal measures which aren’t a long-term solution to conflicts.”
Combs said that the Upper Green is a “perfect” example of an area where efforts could be concentrated to find non-lethal solutions to bear and human conflicts.
“Until then, allowing 72 grizzlies to be killed in an endless cycle of conflict isn’t the forward-thinking efforts we need for 21st century wildlife management,” she said.