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Historic cattle drive threatened by activists citing threatened grizzly populations

Colter Brown, Northern Ag Network - June 2, 2020

PINEDALE, WY - The oldest active cattle drive in Wyoming is under threat. Several environmental groups have sued the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service in order to halt grazing on National Forest land, seeking to destroy a historic cattle drive that has operated since the 19th century.

The Upper Green River Drift is a cattle drive that's been going on for more than a 100 years. it begins in the meadows and on the mesas along the Green River. Twice a year, in early spring and then again in early fall cowboys drive several thousand head of cattle back home to their ranches from the northern high desert mesas of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. 

More than a dozen ranches of the Green River Cattle Association share a 168,000-acre grazing allotment on Bureau of Land Management land on the mesas, and a 127,000-acre allotment on the national forest. It's a three-week trip along a traditional stock route and the cattle drift back south. The ranchers spend another month sorting their cattle from their neighbors before driving them back to the home ranches. 

Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) filed a motion to intervene in the case in order to defend the rights of American ranchers to access federal land as they have for generations, and to protect the legacy of the people who built the West.

MSLF filed the motion in the case Western Watersheds Project et al. v. Bernhardt et al. in the Federal District Court of Washington, D.C.

The historic cattle drive in question is a living connection to the West’s ranching history. The route and manner of the cattle drive are largely unchanged since the 1800’s, and it is operated by the descendants of the families who homesteaded the area and began the cattle drive in the 19th century. Because it is so unique, the Upper Green River Drift is listed as a “traditional cultural property” on the National Register of Historic Places—the first ranching-related entity to be so recognized.

Against all evidence of this long history, environmentalist groups involved in the lawsuit have falsely claimed that these grazing practices, which have been practiced soundly for well over a century, will harm grizzly bear populations in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

In reality, grizzly populations in the region have recovered to the extent that Fish & Wildlife Service officials have twice recommended that the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly be removed from the endangered species list most recently in 2017. And there is no evidence that the Upper Green River Drift cattle drive harms grizzly populations.

MSLF represents the Upper Green River Cattle Association and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association as well as several family ranches: The Price Cattle Ranch, Murdock Land & Livestock Co., and Sommers Ranch, LLC.  The “land ethic” is a part of this historic way of life. For instance, the Sommers Ranch won the Leopold Conservation Award in 2012 for their remarkable stewardship of Wyoming’s Upper Green River Valley.

“These families have cared for the land far longer and far better than any agency or activist has,” said Brian Gregg, MSLF’s lead attorney on the case. “The Green River Drift provides 124 years of evidence that ranchers are the real conservationists.”

See more information at www.thedriftdocumentary.com 

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