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The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)

The recent killing of more grizzly bears by the Wyoming Game and Fish, a listed endangered species, to protect ranchers in the Upper Green River Allotment on the Bridger Teton National Forest is another shameful example of the mixed-up priorities and mismanagement of our public lands.

Why should native animals, especially endangered animals, be killed or removed to facilitate the private profit of livestock owners? These are our public lands.

Grazing is a privilege, not a right. If ranching activities jeopardize the public’s wildlife, should not the private livestock be removed rather than the public’s wildlife?

Putting cattle out on the Upper Green River, one of the best wildlife habitats on the entire Bridger Teton National Forest, is akin to putting out four-legged picnic baskets. If you or I were to leave our food out while camping in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park, we would be fined. However, in Wyoming, taxpayers reward ranchers. If a livestock operator loses a cow to a bear, the state of Wyoming “compensates” them for the loss.

The Bridger Teton National Forest had an opportunity to manage these lands for public benefit when it revised management for the Upper Green River Allotment. Instead of managing these public lands for the public benefit, they continued the same old policy of putting private interests ahead of public interest.

The presence of livestock in this area has more impacts than the death of grizzlies. The Forest Service documented the harm done to riparian areas, amphibians, sage grouse and other wildlife. The presence of livestock also pollutes water, socially displaces elk and permits the consumption of forage that would otherwise support native wildlife from grasshoppers to elk.

As long as the Bridger Teton National Forest continues to put private interests ahead of public interest, we will continue to see grizzly bears killed merely to protect the profit of private livestock operations. Is this really what we, the public, want from our public lands managers?

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George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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