Bear lawsuit

Final briefs have been filed defending the standing of Wyoming ranchers to appeal the relisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

A legal foundation representing ranchers has filed its final brief defending its standing to appeal a relisting of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears as a threatened species.

“Ranching families face mounting losses of sheep and cattle and more frequent attacks on humans as grizzly bears continue to swell in number and expand their territory,” said Cody J. Wisniewski, attorney for Mountain States Legal Foundation in Lakewood, Colo.

“Even farmers’ operations have been disrupted by grizzly bears taking up residence in their fields,” he said.

Families live in fear, he said, not just of the grizzlies but of what trouble they could be in if they attempt to defend themselves against an attack.

“Strict Endangered Species Act laws mean they could face prosecution, fines and even imprisonment if they attempt to defend themselves from an attack,” Wisniewski said.

Mary Thoman, of W&M Thoman Ranches, and her family have raised sheep in Western Wyoming for more than a century but gave up grazing lands after their losses became too great and a ranch employee was nearly killed by a grizzly, Wisniewski said.

Charles Price’s ranch is jeopardized by “devasting cattle losses” to grizzlies and Price advocates non-lethal, state management, he said.

Recovery of Yellowstone grizzlies prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Obama and Trump administrations, to attempt delisting the bears.

Both were blocked in court.

The most recent was the Sept. 24, 2018, ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen, in Missoula, Mont., reinstating Yellowstone grizzlies as a threatened species after USFWS delisted them in 2017.

Christensen also ordered USFWS to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the effect of a delisting on the entire species in the lower 48 states.

The U.S. Department of Justice and USFWS is contesting the scope, but not some level of review, while MSLF says the ESA does not require such a review and that it is without legal foundation.

Christensen “improperly expanded the scope of the ESA” and substituted his judgment of science over the agency, Wisiewski said.

Now environmental groups and tribes argue that since the federal government is not pursuing a full appeal of the ruling that the ranchers lack standing to do so, he said.

In a Nov. 1 brief, Wisiewski argued the ranchers have standing because of the losses they have endured.

He told Capital Press that he’s still optimistic about winning on merits.

“People think delisting will be a free-for-all, but there would still be state and federal management and the bears would still be protected in Yellowstone Park,” he said.

Oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit are likely early next year and a ruling a year later, he said.

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