Grizzlies Need Your Help: Tell the Forest Service to Keep Cows Out of Wilderness

Image courtesy of Grand Teton National Park.

Grizzlies, the iconic but imperiled bears of the American West, need places like Wyoming’s Gros Ventre Wilderness. Pronounced “gruh vahnt,” these rugged mountains east of Jackson Hole provide the expansive, undeveloped habitat necessary for grizzly bears to thrive, and for grizzly populations to recover to sustainable levels. But the U.S. Forest Service is on track to introduce a new threat to grizzly bears on what has become their home turf, and we need you to help stop them.

Part of what makes the Gros Ventre Wilderness and surrounding lands—an area known as the Elk Ridge Complex—such a stronghold for grizzlies is the absence of cattle grazing. Every year, grizzlies in Wyoming and other western states are killed to protect the domestic cows and sheep roaming loose in their habitat. But in the Elk Ridge Complex, conservation groups reached voluntary “buyout” agreements with ranchers holding permits to federal grazing allotments. As a result, allotments in the Elk Ridge Complex have been vacant for five years and these public lands have become, once again, a refuge to a growing number of bears.

Now the Forest Service wants to renege on these agreements, which have proven an invaluable tool to protect grizzly bears from being killed due to livestock conflict. The agency is proposing to reauthorize grazing on four vacant allotments: Lime Creek, Rock Creek, Tosi Creek, and Elk Ridge. Together these allotments total 30,577 acres of national forest—13,000 acres of which lie within the Gros Ventre Wilderness boundary.

The Forest Service has prepared a draft environmental assessment to analyze the environmental impacts of this terrible idea. We need you to tell the Forest Service to keep these vacant allotments closed. You can submit your comments via their comment portal here by December 27.

To help make your voice heard, we’ve compiled talking points you can include in your comments to the Forest Service:

* Re-allowing grazing on the four Elk Ridge Complex allotments is a recipe for disaster for recovering grizzly bears. Already, too many grizzlies are killed in response to conflicts with livestock. Placing cows on these now-vacant allotments invites conflict, which will cause more bears to be killed.

* The Forest Service needs to honor voluntary, cooperative allotment buyouts. The Elk Ridge Complex allotments have been vacant for five years, and in that time have become important habitat for grizzly bears and other native wildlife. Allowing cattle on these allotments would violate these agreements, undo important protections for grizzly, and have a chilling effect on the use of this important conservation tool going forward.

* There is no need for grazing on the Elk Ridge Complex allotments. In the draft environmental assessment, the Forest Service has not demonstrated any need for opening the Lime Creek, Rock Creek, Tosi Creek, and Elk Ridge grazing allotments.

* The Forest Service has not articulated how it would manage the Elk Ridge Complex allotments. In the draft environmental assessment, the Forest Service has not considered any specific grazing scenarios. As a consequence, the public has no understanding of the number of livestock that will be grazed, areas of use, the capacity of the range to support livestock, and other details necessary to ensure the agency takes the requisite “hard look” at the effects of its proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Forest Service needs to know you support grizzly bears, keeping Wilderness wild, and oppose restocking vacant livestock grazing allotments in the heart of their range. Please submit your comments by December 27.

Joe Bushyhead is WildEarth Guardians’ Endangered Species Policy Advocate. Learn more at