Cat Urbigkit: WildEarth Guardians Advocate for Expanded Federal Authority Over State Wildlife


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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

In two separate lawsuits last month, environmental group WildEarth Guardians claimed that federal laws take precedence over state laws when it comes to wildlife management.

The arguments were not about a special-status protected species, but about common species managed by state wildlife officials as game.

Montana Wolves

In a case filed in Montana’s First Judicial District Court, the group is challenging Montana’s wolf hunting and management plans, seeking to end the state’s wolf hunt.

Unsurprisingly, the group disputed the number of wolves killed in Montana’s last hunting season that were known to inhabit Yellowstone National Park for part of the year but were legally harvested outside the park.

In a new legal case filed in state court last week, WildEarth Guardians says federal organic law requires the National Park Service to “conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wildlife” in parks and to then leave them “untouched for the enjoyment of future generations.

“When wolves occupying territory in national parks are killed in accordance with national hunting laws because they move outside park boundaries, national park ecosystems are directly and negatively impacted. Killing Park Wolves therefore harms federal interests,” the group argued.

“Under the principles of conflict avoidance, a state law that obstructs or substantially interferes with the accomplishment and execution of all the purposes and objectives of the regulatory objective of a federal law is preempted and therefore zero,” WildEarth alleged, stating that Montana’s wolf management program significantly obstructs or interferes with the mandate of the Park Service Organic Act.

Amazingly, the lawsuit also claims that Montana’s wolf management structure “as applied, interferes with federal policy in the management and administration of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Glaciers and is therefore preempted by organic law”. {Yes, they threw Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming into the deal for good measure.}

In addition, the case argued that the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are required to manage the lands under their jurisdiction in accordance with federal multiple-use and sustained-yield laws, that the management of Montana wolves interferes with these mandates and should therefore be reported as provided by these federal laws.

Cattle-carnivore conflicts

In a second action last month, WildEarth Guardians filed a petition with the US Forest Service calling for “a national framework for managing conflict between livestock and native carnivores on National Forest System lands.”

The petition requests “the release of a rule and policy guidance to amend Forest Service regulations and policies on grazing of public lands to require that the conflict avoidance measures included in this petition be incorporated into the forest plans during the development, review and/or revision of the forest plan amendment process, in subdivision management plans, and in grazing permits and leases as they are renewed or re-authorized. »

Arguing that federal land management agencies have an obligation (not just discretion) to manage and conserve wildlife on federal lands, WildEarth Guardians wrote: “The misguided but persistent view among land managers of the Forest Service that federal agencies manage wildlife habitat and states manage wildlife hampers the rigor with which the Forest Service asserts its legal authority to meaningfully resolve carnivore-livestock conflicts. Land managers who buy into this false narrative can evade their legal obligations to protect wildlife.

The group wrote that it sought to “protect” native carnivores (meaning everything from bobcats and coyotes to wolves and bears) from Forest Service-authorized activities, including livestock grazing.

Framing his petition as an attempt to create a framework for managing livestock-predator conflict is somewhat misleading, since what WildEarth Guardians is asking for would see the elimination of much livestock grazing from national forests.

To read the petition, you might not know this, since the group touts its demand as simply requiring that “conflict avoidance measures” be incorporated into the process (even though some of these requirements are already in place on federal grazing permits). But the details of the petition’s request include provisions that are not feasible for commercial livestock production, such as:

• “Implement appropriate seasonal restrictions based on site-specific considerations, such as reducing temporal overlap between grazing activities and periods of high risk of depredation (for examplewhen wolves raise their offspring)….”

• “Limit grazing to defensible open spaces and prohibit cattle from grazing unattended by human riders in remote and heavily forested areas.”

• “In the event of depredation, require livestock to be moved to another unit or compound. If alternate grazing sites are not available, require livestock to be moved out of the national forest for the duration of the grazing season.

The reality is that restricting cattle grazing during the time wolves are raising their offspring would encompass the entire grazing season in Wyoming’s National Forests. Limiting grazing to “defensible open spaces” would eliminate much grazing in National Forests because allotments are not set up that way.

Removing livestock in the event of depredation is a sure way to eliminate livestock grazing in national forests. But that’s what WildEarth Guardian is really looking for. He’s already called for an end to most domestic sheep grazing on public lands and says cattle grazing is a threat to everything from sagebrush to carnivores. Now he’s urging federal authorities to assert authority over species traditionally managed by national wildlife agencies, stoking further controversy.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the beach in Sublette County, Wyoming. His column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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