Conservation Groups Suing US Forest Service to Protect Grizzly Bears Near Yellowstone National Park

by Taylor Cunningham

Several conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the United States Forest Service after the service opened more land for livestock grazing near Yellowstone National Park. The groups claim that the move will create more encounters between grizzly bears and humans, which will ultimately further endanger the threatened species.

In the suit filed in a Missoula, Montana court, nine separate organizations said the USFS did not take the grizzly population into account when it released acreage in Paradise Valley. In the documents, they made the case that the animal is suffering because its diet has been impacted by climate change and development. And if humans further encroach on its habitat, the bears will face a new threat when farmers attempt to protect their livestock.

Grizzly bears in the area typically live off of a diet of elk, deer, cutthroat trout, army cutworm moths, and whitebark pine tree seeds. But diseases have killed off the seeds and other fish have hurt the trout population. With two sources of food lacking, the bears are guaranteed to see livestock as prey.

“Meat from large herbivores (including livestock) is a high-quality grizzly bear food,” the lawsuit reads.

Only Around 2000 Grizzly Bears Exist Today

According to the Endangered Species Coalition, somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 grizzly bears roamed the US in the early 1800s. But human development quickly depleted the numbers. Today, the United States only counts 1,923 bears. And more than 700 of them live in or near Yellowstone National Park.

There have been great efforts to help increase the grizzly population. But the process hasn’t been easy. Females begin producing later in life, having their first litter around 6 years old. And many of the bears die from starvation or conflict before they reach that age.

The coalition further states that “human-caused mortality is the number one threat” to the bear. And that’s why the conservation groups hope to stop the Forest Service’s efforts.

The suit continues by saying that if grizzly bears “share the same space” as livestock, the food source will draw bears to the areas, opening them up for conflict. furthermore, it points out that the Forest Service admitted that “the East Paradise decision ‘may affect, or is likely to adversely affect’ grizzly bears.”

“The Forest Service’s decision to increase livestock grazing on public lands in important grizzly bear habitat is completely irresponsible. Putting livestock in habitat where grizzly bears live is akin to baiting these imperiled animals into conflicts. It will only lead to dead bears and thwart the recovery of this threatened species,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a carnivore conservation legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity.