Feds want to combine, move 2 grizzly-bear lawsuits to Wyoming

Wyoming Game and Fish courtesy photo

Wyoming and

federal officials want to combine and transfer

two grizzly-related lawsuits over the Upper

Green rangeland grazing program from

Washington, D.C., to a Wyoming courtroom.

Both lawsuits were filed on March 31 in

District of Columbia’s U.S. District Court,

with Judge Amit P. Mehta presiding, by two

sets of conservation and wildlife nonprofits.

Both challenge the Bridger-Teton National

Forest’s decision to renew Sublette County

ranchers’ grazing permits in the Upper

Green River rangeland.

They argue the Forest Service’s reliance

on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s

2019 Biological Opinion and “incidental

take statement” violates the National

Environmental Protection Act. The “2019

BiOp” determined up to 72 Greater

Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies could be

killed in the Upper Green over a decade to

protect livestock without affecting grizzlies’

recovery.

One coalition – Western Watersheds,

Alliance for the Wild Rockies and

Yellowstone to Uintas Connection – argues

broadly the federal agencies violated NEPA

and the Administrative Procedures Act and

the grizzlies should remain protected.

The other – Center for Biological

Diversity and Sierra Club – focuses more

on BTNF’s “flawed” reliance on the FWS’s

2019 Biological Opinion.

Combine both

Each lawsuit is at an early stage; both

sought preliminary injunctions against the

BTNF or FWS taking any grizzlies during

this summer’s grazing season. Both cases’

court schedules, motions and hearing overlap

each other.

The federal agencies announced their

intent to combine the two lawsuits: “(FS and

FWS) intend to move the Court to consolidate

the (Center for Biological Diversity) matter

and Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. D.

Bernhardt, the State of Wyoming, the Upper

Green River Cattle Association, Sommers

Ranch, LLC, Price Cattle Ranch, Murdock

Land and Livestock Co., and the Wyoming

Stock Growers Association, No. 20-cv-860

(D.D.C.) because of the significant factual and

legal overlap between the two cases.”

WWP lawsuit

WWP argues that Greater Yellowstone

Ecosystem grizzly bears in the rangeland are

endangered by the Forest Service and U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service’s analyses and final

decision. It also highlights the endangered

Kendall Warm Springs dace, a small fish

found only near the Upper Green River.

On June 1, Judge Mehta allowed the state

of Wyoming, Upper Green River Cattle

Association, Sommers Ranch, Murdock Land

and Livestock Co., Price Cattle Ranch and

Wyoming Stock Growers Association with

Jim Magagna to intervene, against WWP’s

objections.

The judge heard arguments June 3 for and

against WWP’s motion for a preliminary

injunction “to preserve the status quo” for

“listed species” in the Upper Green rangeland.

On June 12, Judge Mehta denied WWP’s

motion.

“The court issues this order today to

remove any uncertainty about (FS and FWS)

ability to take nuisance grizzly bears from the

Upper Green River Area Rangeland Project,

consistent with the 2019 Biological Opinion

and Incidental Take Statement, when the

permitted cattle drive is expected to commence

on June 14, 2020. The court’s Memorandum

Opinion providing the reasons for its decision

will issue the week of June 15, 2020.”

The judge’s memo was not posted by press

time.

Move to transfer

The first federal motion to transfer the

WWP case to Wyoming was filed May 22.

In opposition, WWP argued, “In this

case, three conservation organizations,

headquartered in Idaho, Montana and Utah,

challenge the failure of federal agencies and

officials located in the District of Columbia

to comply with the Endangered Species

Act and the Administrative Procedure

Act. Specifically, (WWP) filed this case

to challenge the management of protected

species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

and U.S. Forest Service.”

On June 16, the federal agencies responded,

“(WWP’s) complaint concerns local

issues that should be decided in Wyoming.

The majority of the Greater Yellowstone

Ecosystem population of the grizzly bear

(as well as all grizzly bears in the project

area) and the entire dace species are within

Wyoming. Moreover, neither plaintiffs nor the

18 permittees authorized to graze their cattle

on those allotments have any connection to the

District of Columbia. … And the lead plaintiff

in this case – the Western Watersheds Project –

maintains offices in Wyoming, whereas none

of the Plaintiffs has any offices in Washington,

D.C.”

CBD lawsuit

In the Center for Biological Diversity’s

case, the federal motion to transfer its case

to Wyoming was filed June 11, arguing it

should have been filed here because it involves

regional and Sublette County officials,

ranchers and livelihoods.

“The litigation involves the effect of the

authorization of grazing on grizzly bears in

the Upper Green River Rangeland Project

Area, which is located entirely in the state

of Wyoming,” it states. “There are strong

connections between this case and the state

of Wyoming and the connection between this

case and the District of Columbia is weak.”

The groups oppose its transfer from

Washington, D.C., to Wyoming. Both are

incorporated in California with offices in

Washington, D.C.

“Despite the fact that plaintiffs maintain

offices in the District of Columbia, the official

actions occurred in Wyoming,” the federal

motion states. “The connection between

plaintiffs, the controversy, and the chosen

forum in this case – the District of Columbia

– is highly attenuated, thus favoring transfer to

the judicial district where the regulated species

and the area at issue are located and where the

events giving rise to the case occurred, the

District of Wyoming. … This case has little to

do with actions by any federal official or office

in Washington, D.C.”

.

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