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Ranchers and farmers in western Wyoming asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize the injuries ranchers and farmers will continue to suffer if the Court does not overturn a lower court’s decision to return the Yellowstone-area grizzly bear to the List of Endangered and Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Ranching families face mounting losses to their sheep and cattle and more frequent attacks on humans as grizzly bears continue to swell in number and expand their territory. Even farmers’ operations have been disrupted by grizzly bears taking up residence in their fields.

These families live in fear, not only of the grizzly, but of what could happen to them if they attempt to defend themselves against an attack. Strict ESA laws mean they could face prosecution, fines, and even imprisonment if they attempt to defend themselves from an attack.

Wyoming resident Mary A. Thoman, of W&M Thoman Ranches, LLC, and her family have raised sheep in western Wyoming for more than a century. But she had to give up her family’s grazing land after their losses became too great and a ranch employee barely escaped a grizzly attack with his life.

“I am afraid that the Western way of life will be lost for future generations,” she wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today. 

Fellow Wyoming rancher Charles Price is a fourth-generation rancher on his family’s land, and has been joined by his son and grandchildren, who represent the fifth and sixth generations. He has suffered devastating cattle losses due to the ever-expanded grizzly population — losses that jeopardize his family’s ranch. 

Even in the face of such a destructive predator, Price has continually advocated for non-lethal, state-level management, stating that Wyoming Game & Fish Department “is more than capable of relocating bears within the [area] for the safety of the bear and the individuals and livestock affected.”

Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) represents Thoman’s family ranch and  Price, along with Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (Crow Indian Tribe v. United States of America).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found in June of 2017, after decades of research and careful monitoring, that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bear population exceeded the minimum population goal set by scientists and was fully recovered. Fish and Wildlife scientists determined, yet again, that it was appropriate to remove the Yellowstone grizzly from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species, after previously and unsuccessfully trying to delist the grizzly under the Obama administration. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” then Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said at the time. 

 But in September 2018, the U.S. District Court of Montana ordered that the Greater Yellowstone grizzly be returned to List of Endangered and Threatened Species, contrary to the recommendation of both government and independent scientists. 

Currently, environmental activists are seeking to block the Wyoming ranchers from having the opportunity to pursue their appeal and to have their voices heard in court. “Elite and out-of-touch environmental activists are arguing, from their high-rise, downtown office buildings, that they have more of a right to litigate the status of the recovered grizzly bear population in the West than real Westerners who live and work in the area,” said Cody Wisniewski, MSLF’s lead counsel on the case. “The decades of experience and losses that the Thomans and the Prices have suffered should not be cast aside in favor of special interest groups that will never have to put up with grizzly bears in their backyard.” 

MSLF is asking the Ninth Circuit to reaffirm that the ESA is designed to assist the states with recovery, when necessary, and then return management of the species to the states once recovery goals are met. Fish and Wildlife scientists have repeatedly concluded that those goals have been met with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear.