The launching of summer outings

My name is Karenna and I am a summer intern for the Sierra Club in Bozeman. I am helping to plan and lead several outings throughout this summer and have already thoroughly enjoyed several hikes in the past several weeks.


The open meadows of West Pine

The first hike I was able to co-lead was up West Pine in the Gallatin Range just east of Bozeman. Here the trail was bombarded with every color of wildflower imaginable. Some of which I knew the names of, and others I was clueless about and simply had to marvel at their beauty. The aroma of the lupine wildflowers was overpowering in the lower parts of the trail; it was so strong it was hard to believe that the smell was natural. The trail snaked its way upward along the mountain side, and then through trees burnt in a recent forest fire, where the ecosystem was slowly recovering and beginning to thrive again. The hike continued along a ridge line supplying spectacular views of the mountains on either side of us, as well as ample fields of wildflowers, which made the hills gleam with color. We slowly gained elevation throughout the hike, which made the lunchtime stop on top of the ridge line a beautiful location in a prairie of grass and flowers where we all enjoyed the view and the light breeze. A few other parties came by on their way along the trail saying happy hellos as they passed by. The way down had the same spectacular views as the way up, and we quickly trekked down the continual downhill slope which made a fast and pleasant walk down.

I also was able to co-lead another hike along the Shafthouse Ridge in the Northern Bridgers.  Here we started on a well-maintained trail which made its way up the mountain, gaining vertical at a pleasant rate. We walked along the trail for over a mile, after which we ventured off-trail and headed up to the top of the ridge line. Here an old mineshaft lay abandoned and semi caved in; a remnant of mining days in the Bridgers, which only lasted a couple of years due to lack of success. However, the mines failure means the beauty of the area and the hike we walked was relatively preserved.  As we continued along the ridge line we came to a point where we could see down to Frazier Lake, a great small alpine lake slightly hidden from the bustle of the Fairy Lake area.  After admiring the lake for a moment we headed back down towards the cars, continuing our off trail adventure down the mountain.  Back at the cars we all decided we had time to go enjoy our lunches up at Fairy Lake, a short drive slightly further up the road.  Although very crowded with laughing children and happy families and friends, Fairy Lake supplied its normal wonderful views and we found a great patch of shade to enjoy our lunch in the afternoon heat.


The view from the Ridge

Both of the two hikes, the one in the Gallatin’s and in the Bridger’s, that I have had the pleasure of helping lead are areas that continue to amaze me and show me new sights. I had never before done the two specific hikes in these areas, and was so happy to explore the new places. Both the Gallatin’s and the Bridger’s are incredible areas that are also still relatively well maintained and preserved. I believe this stewardship needs to continue and increase in order to explore, enjoy, and protect the nature of these places.

Karenna is the campaign’s 2015 summer intern. She is Bozeman born and raised, and just completed her first year at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. Karenna has a passion for whitewater kayaking in the summer, skiing in the winter, and an all around love for the outdoors.

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Capital W: Forever Wild, Forever Free

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The following comes from the introduction of Capital W: Forever Wild, Forever Free. This multimedia installation is the first part to the Sierra Club’s Oral History Project of the Gallatin Range. Featuring the voices of the Bozeman community, our short film will immerse you in the seasonal changes of the magnificent Gallatin Range. 

The installation is open daily, from Monday, May 4 to Friday, May 8. A reception will be held Tuesday, May 5 from 5 pm – 8 pm, with a Q&A with the director and producer at 6:30 pm. Join us at the Exist Gallery, at Montana State University (in the Strand Union Building)!

The first time I saw Hyalite, I was breathless. It was late evening, mid-May, and the road had just opened. The trees still had snow, the reservoir still frozen, the snowcapped mountains silhouetted, and the soft glow from the sunset peaked through the clouds. Our small fire kept us warm as we drank wine, watching the changing night sky. I felt like I was in a fairy tale- a true winter wonderland.

Over the next few months I would venture further, beyond Hyalite, hiking to Mount Blackmore, frolicking in the wildflowers of Windy Pass, backpacking to Ramshorn Lake, and cross country skiing to the frozen waterfalls along Hyalite Creek. These landmarks make up the Gallatin Range, running from Yellowstone National Park to Bozeman’s beloved Hyalite.

The diversity is what makes the Gallatin Range so special. It is the backyard to those of us from Bozeman to Big Sky, and Livingston to Gardiner. We spend countless hours exploring the drainages, climbing peaks, fishing and hunting, and hiking among bright wildflowers. We depend on its watershed for clean drinking water. But it is also home to 38 species on the state of Montana’s Species of Concern list, including wolves and grizzly bears, and allows for a critical north-south migration. The Gallatin River is a blue ribbon trout stream.

In 1977, the heart of the Range, a 155,000-acre plot, was designated the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in hopes that it would eventually be designated as Wilderness and protected for future generations. With a history as complicated as its name, the Range has no permanent designation, and its fate in limbo.

Wilderness is more than a designation on a map; it is an escape from the mundane, and a chance to feel alive and free from societal expectations. Wilderness is the compilation of stories, those moments of challenges and triumphs. Wilderness is protecting the untrammeled, for future generations.

Capital W: Forever Wild, Forever Free, explores this idea. We interviewed prominent members of the community on their thoughts on the Gallatins and wilderness, and feature their voices in this short film. These interviews will be part of a longer film, out this summer.

We invite you to interact with our installation. Be inspired, be empowered, and be free.

We all have our “first time” moments. I’ve told you mine; what’s yours?

Kiersten Iwai is the Associate Organizing Rep for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. She is based in Bozeman, MT. Questions or comments? Contact her at or call, 406 582 8365.

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Sierra Club Challenges Grizzly Killing in Grand Teton National Park

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For Immediate Release April 6, 2015

Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084,
Bonnie Rice, Sierra Club, (406) 640-2857,
Jonathan Ratner, Western Watersheds Project, (877) 746-3628,

Conservationists Challenge Grizzly Killing in Grand Teton National Park
Federally approved ‘take’ of grizzly bears threatens recovery

Washington, DC – Conservation groups have filed a legal challenge against two federal agencies for approving the killing of four grizzly bears, a threatened species, within Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday, April 3, by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, targets September 2013 actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service to allow the lethal “taking” of four grizzly bears over the next seven years in connection with a fall elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park.

“Authorizing the killing of four grizzly bears in a national park is not good management for grizzlies or national parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The government should be working to eliminate grizzly mortality threats, not handing out authorizations to kill grizzly bears in one of our nation’s premiere national parks.”

The agencies authorized the challenged grizzly “takings” in response to an incident on Thanksgiving Day 2012 in which three hunters participating in the Grand Teton elk hunt shot and killed an adult male grizzly bear. Anticipating more such conflicts as the region’s grizzlies increasingly turn to meat-based food sources such as hunter-killed or wounded elk, federal officials in September 2013 approved the killing of four more grizzly bears in connection with future elk hunts in Grand Teton through the year 2022.

In doing so, however, government officials failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the expected Grand Teton “takings” together with other grizzly bear mortality that federal agencies have authorized. The authorized killing of these four grizzlies, when added to the amount of other similar grizzly “take” determinations issued by FWS and currently in effect for other actions in the Greater Yellowstone region, could result in the killing of as many as 65 female grizzly bears in a single year. This level of mortality exceeds sustainable levels for female bears set by government biologists by more than three times.

“Allowing four additional grizzly bears – a threatened species – to be killed in one our nation’s most iconic national parks, without even requiring significant measures to reduce conflicts between people and bears, is inexcusable,” said Bonnie Rice with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region.”

“Throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appears to have forgotten basic math,” added Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project. “They have been handing out permits for the killing of grizzly bears like candy but they have conveniently forgotten to add up all of the take they have authorized.”

Legal Document:


Federal biologists acknowledge that the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has flattened over the past decade. Recently, the grizzly population has been faced with the loss of two of its most important food sources in the Yellowstone region—whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout—due to changing environmental conditions driven in part by a warming climate. In the wake of these changes, scientists have documented the bears’ transition to a more meat-based diet, but that diet leads to a greater potential for conflict with human activities, resulting in more grizzly mortalities.

Such increasing grizzly bear mortalities are of particular concern because analysis of government grizzly bear conflict and mortality data shows a declining population trend for the Yellowstone-area population from 2007-2013. Veteran grizzly biologist David Mattson documented these findings in a declaration supporting the conservationists’ challenge.

In its decision , FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing associated with the Grand Teton elk hunt would remain within sustainable levels. However, the conservationists contend that FWS cannot rely on compliance with sustainable grizzly mortality thresholds to justify additional killing of Yellowstone bears unless federal officials consider the impacts of all the grizzly bear mortality they have anticipated across the region.

The Grand Teton elk hunt results from a misguided program of winter elk feeding on the nearby Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge. The longstanding elk feeding program began for the altruistic purpose of sustaining elk through the harsh Northern Rockies winter. More recently, however, the crowding of elk on winter feed lines has been documented to subject the elk to a severe threat of wildlife disease mortality that outweighs the benefits of feeding. Further, the practice has led to the artificial inflation of the elk population such that the extraordinary step of hunting in a national park—with associated grizzly bear mortality—has been deemed necessary to control elk numbers.

Mattson Declaration:

Online Version:

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A Thank-You to Postcard Underground

I’ve been receiving a series of postcards from an anonymous group, Postcard Underground. The postcards came almost perfectly timed; just the past week I had received a rude email from an individual.These postcards offered kind words of encouragement, expressing the appreciation for the work that I do with the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. These words do more than brighten my day; they provide motivation, letting me know that our efforts are not fruitless.


Currently, the Sierra Club is involved in a local collaborative, the Gallatin Community Collaborative. The Collaborative is charged with creating recommendations for the Forest Service on the fate of the Gallatin Range. While such local based solutions foster a sense of community and stewardship, we must not forget that these lands are National Forest lands, lands for the people. These postcards reminded me that we don’t need to be in Montana or Wyoming to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the ecosystem. We can be in Boston, or San Francisco, or Miami.

My passion for wildlife and wildlands stems from my childhood- from a collection of junior ranger badges from National Parks, and memories of suburban sprawl encroaching on the last of the open space in Southern California. The National Forests and National Parks a couple hours away gave me the opportunity to explore and learn about our natural environment. Vacations to Yellowstone do more than create bonds among family members; they inspire a generation of conservation activists.

As one postcards reads, “I have been lucky enough to visit Montana and see wild beauty it has to offer.” Regardless of where you live, you still have the right, and the opportunity to have a voice in public lands management in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Join me in speaking out for the protection of the Gallatin Range, and other wildlife and wildlands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Thank-you, Postcard Underground

Kiersten_Iwai Kiersten Iwai is the Associate Organizer for the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone campaign. Want to learn more? Email at, or call at (406) 582-8365 x2

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Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye Oyasin.  A sentiment of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota Sioux Nations, it speaks to one’s relation to everything else in existence. All beings exist within a complex web of interconnection and consequence. This philosophy of understanding our actions and repercussions directly influences the traditional tribal view of the environment; still it affects the Nations’ methods of natural resource management today.
Bison, wolves, deer and salmon- all are key natural resources in the web of life, and all are highly contested and complex political subjects. Still, few resources are topic of heated debate on a National, International and Intertribal level than oil. Oil. Undoubtedly a cornerstone of the International economy, it is also key component of Global pollution and environmental destruction. Oil that spills in the Gulf of Mexico coats sea birds and other marine creatures in a black sludge, poisoning the Gulf’s natural bounty.  The Tar Sands of Canada are a wasteland; earth ravaged to extract oil slowly sickens local First Nation’s citizens in the process. Most recently, the people of Glendive, Montana faced crisis when a broken pipeline spewed carcinogens into their water supply.
Oil poses a threat to the environment, and to health, but it also poses an issue for human rights.  A large pipeline project such as the Keystone XL Pipeline attempts to slice through the land of many private owners, ranchers, farmers and others who rely on the land. The project also threatens the sovereignty of Native American Nations. As the map stands, the Keystone XL Pipeline would cut through the Rosebud reservation of the sovereign Lakota Sioux Nation.  As an autonomous political entity, the tribe argues its right to refuse the invasion of the pipeline- the tribal president even stating doing so would be an “Act of War”.
 The concern is not solely for the politics and logistics of land use, it is largely because the pipeline would cut through the Oglala Aquifer, essential to the Country’s core. Given past oil disasters, it is concerning that such a large quantity of oil would be looming over such an important water resource. Were there to be a spill, the effects on local people, wildlife and even the American agriculture of the Midwest, would be catastrophic.
In the cultures of many Native North American peoples, it is always important to think about the future legacy you are leaving for the next generation- even the next seven! To achieve this, a society must work within the web of relations in an efficient but respectful way, leaving as little damage as possible, and taking no more than it needs. In the context of the interconnected web of life, oil is a vicious carcinogen. It threatens the People, their health and welfare, and the very Earth on which we depend.
President Obama recognizes that the threat of the Keystone XL Pipeline far outweighs its possible monetary benefits. In using his executive power to veto the project, he has kept to his word, and protected the People.  A potential disaster has been adverted. Yet, we should not lose sight of the issue of oil. A chief industry and a chief polluter, oil is an environmental justice issue worldwide.  We have said “No” to big oil in our own back yard- but it is imperative to remember that the Earth as a whole is refuge to the greater human family.  Our actions as an entire species affect the Mother Earth on which we all depend; in harming her, we harm ourselves. How much destruction can be done until the damage is irreversible?
 – Mitakuye Oyasin
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New Alternative Fails to Meet Need for Expanded Habitat

As the temperature drops below zero, Yellowstone bison are traversing to lower elevations in search of grass and warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, for 900 of these bison, they will be captured and shipped to slaughter. The rest will be hazed back into Yellowstone National Park once the warmth of spring rolls around–unless Montana Governor Bullock decides to allow Yellowstone bison year-round habitat on Montana lands immediately adjacent to the Park.

For well over a year, the State of Montana failed to act on a joint environmental assessment for year-round habitat for Yellowstone bison. Drafted by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Department of Livestock, this historic proposal received over 100,000 comments, most of which were in favor of the biggest expansion, Alternative B. In early 2014, the decision passed on to the Board of Livestock to pick a preferred alternative. In front of them was a compromised proposal of tiering habitat expansion to a decrease in population numbers. Despite this, the Board failed to act.

Seven months later, the State released an “Addendum to the Year-round Bison Habitat Draft Joint Environmental Assessment.” In this addendum, FWP and DoL added an additional alternative, Alternative G. Alternative G is based off of the compromised proposal set before the Board of Livestock. In this, if the bison population is over 4,500, they get no expanded habitat and bison management continues as usual. With the proposed winter slaughter of 900 bison, the population will drop to 4,000, opening up Horse Butte year-round. Hazing in the spring will still need to occur, to chase the bison on areas outside the “tolerance” areas and into Horse Butte and the Park. If the population falls below 3,500, the habitat expands from Horse Butte up towards the Taylor Fork near Highway 191. If the bison population rises above 4,500, bison management continues as usual with hazing and no expanded habitat.The State fails to provide a reason why less bison will trigger habitat expansion.

Expanded habitat for bison offers many benefits, including a reduction in costs associated with the hazing and slaughtering of bison. This benefit is negated by the State’s “attempt.”

The State is opening up a 30-day comment period, which closes December 11. We urge the Governor to heed to the tens of thousands comments received in support of expanded habitat. Click on this link to submit a public comment online. You can also mail comments to:

MFWP – Bison Addendum

PO Box 200701

Helena MT, 59620

Kiersten Iwai is Sierra Club’s GYE organizer. Questions, comments, want to help out? Contact her at, or give her a call at (406) 582-8365 x2.


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We are that future generation.

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The view from up top–Ramshorn Lake

Despite being exhausted and hungry, we arrived at our camp in high spirits. The intoxicating feeling of adventuring in the backcountry poured through us as we pitched our tents and started a fire. Night was quickly upon us, followed by light snow flakes that blanketed the fields and trees.

This past weekend, the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign partnered with the Wilderness Club at Montana State University to backpack into Ramshorn Lake in the Gallatin Range. After a steep summit to Ramshorn Peak, we hiked along the ridge, marveling at the spectacular views and diverse geology. We found petrified wood and a fossilized feather, many burs that stuck to our pants and mud that caked our boots, and drainages and rock screes. We passed a trio of hunters packing out a mountain goat, finding the leftover guts along the way. Birds soared overhead, and we knew other wildlife was likely nearby. We saw herds of mountain goats; their balance and grace amazing us as they moved around the steep unstable mountainside. We, on the other hand, stumbled around, slipping and sliding.

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Mountain goats!

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Traversing the ridge.

We were nine young people, seeking an escape from the routine tasks the normal week brings and the opportunity to truly feel alive in the wild. We bonded and together we overcame our challenges and obstacles with positive attitudes and smiles. Despite varying levels of hiking experience and gear, the MSU students stuck together and helped to assure all participants were able to complete the rigorous journey over the ridge and to our backcountry camp.

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We made it to the peak!

We awoke the next morning to four inches of snow on the ground, and with a couple more inches falling throughout the morning. Fortunately, we had the hot blaze of a fire to keep us warm. The stark contrast between the sunny dry Saturday to the frozen palace on Sunday reminded us how quickly things change in the mountains.

Ramshorn Lake is in the core of the Gallatin Range, and the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area. Just a few miles north of Yellowstone National Park, this area serves as crucial habitat for wildlife migrating to and from the park. The future of the WSA remains unknown, but it’s easy to see how permanent protection is needed.

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The view in the morning.

I often hear how people want to protect our lands and watersheds for future generations–not only the chance to have clean air and clean water, but to pass along the same recreational opportunities to explore and heal. Well, the future generation is here. We are that future generation–we are your children, your grandkids, and your future in-laws. We care about the future of our backyard, the fate the Gallatin Range. But many are also disillusioned by the political process and the exclusivity of politics. We get blamed for problems of today’s society that we were born into and we will be the ones who face the consequences.

And yes, many of us are apathetic and apolitical. It can be so easy to get lost in the steady rhythm of work, classes, and friends. Once the workday ends, it can be so easy to just hit the trails and not think about the threats. It can be so easy to grab a beer with friends and watch the football game, oblivious to the world outside. But at the same time, aren’t we all like that, no matter what age?

We are the solutions and have the energy needed to carry on an environmental stewardship ethic of caring for the planet. But first we need those openings; those chances to be involved in a space that we feel comfortable in: those openings that allow our voices to be heard and valued.

So as I write this, I’m dreaming about the next adventure, the next peak to summit, and the next drainage to follow. I’m dreaming about roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire, and the fresh snow that will soon fall on our mountains. I’m dreaming how we can connect all those who love the Gallatin Range and work together to protect it forever.

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Is any site so beautiful?


The trek back.

Kiersten Iwai is one of the Sierra Club’s GYE organizers. Questions, comments, want to help out? Contact her at, or give her a call at (406) 582-8365 x2.


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Victory! Federal Protections Restored for Wyoming Wolves

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Wolves in Wyoming got a rare break yesterday when a federal judge reinstated federal protections for the animal. The judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in removing federal Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in favor of the state’s wolf management plan in 2012. Represented by Earthjustice, Sierra Club and several partners including Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the delisting based on deep flaws in Wyoming’s management plan.

In her ruling United States District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted that the Service was “arbitrary and capricious” in accepting Wyoming’s management plan based solely on the state’s intentions to manage for a viable wolf population, and that “the Service cannot rely solely on an unenforceable promise as a basis to delist a species.”

As a result of the decision, Endangered Species Act protections were reinstated immediately and wolves are now back under federal management in Wyoming.  That’s where they belong, until Wyoming gets it right and develops an enforceable plan that will maintain a healthy population of wolves. Under the state’s now-rejected plan Wyoming was required to maintain just 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation.  Wolves could be killed by virtually any means anytime without a license in over eighty percent of the state – the so-called “predator zone.”  In the rest of Wyoming  around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, wolves could be hunted as “trophy game.”   Since the loss of protections in 2012, over 200 wolves have been killed under state management.

But today, wolves are protected once again in Wyoming, and that is good news indeed.  Wolves are a key part of the fabric that makes Greater Yellowstone such a special and unique place, and they deserved to be treated as the majestic creatures they are.

Bonnie Rice

Senior Representative, Our Wild America campaign  – Bozeman, MT

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Federal agencies fail grizzlies once again in the Upper Green

National Park Service

National Park Service

For the third time in five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has increased the ‘incidental take,’ or the number of grizzly bears they anticipate will be killed, as a result of conflicts with livestock in the Upper Green area of the Bridger Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming. The Upper Green has the highest number of conflicts in the entire Greater Yellowstone region, yet the agency has once again failed to require any meaningful measures to reduce those conflicts with livestock being grazed on public land. At least fifteen grizzly bears have been intentionally killed in the Upper Green because of conflicts with livestock since 2010.

Because Yellowstone grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), any federal action that could jeopardize the continued existence of the species and/or its habitat must be evaluated. If it is determined that the action (in this case, livestock grazing), will not jeopardize the species but could result in ‘take’ of the species, the take must be quantified and an exemption from the Act is granted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly raised the number of bears that can be killed in the Upper Green while failing yet again to require measures to reduce conflicts. The title itself of the just-released decision tells the story: “Biological Opinion for the 2014 Supplement to the 2013 Supplement and 2010 Amendment to the 1999 Biological Assessment for Livestock Grazing on the Northern Portions of the Pinedale Ranger District.” In 2011, the incidental take limit of six bears was exceeded the following year, even though the term of the take statement was 10 years, through 2020. In 2013, a new take statement upped the take to 11 bears, which was supposed to be through 2017, but by earlier this month, six grizzlies had already been killed. And now in 2014, the agency has allowed another 11 bears to be killed in the next three years. According to the agencies, the Yellowstone grizzly population is ‘recovered,’ (though it remains on the Endangered Species List), and the Upper Green grizzlies are viewed as ‘extra’ bears.

Sierra Club and several other non-governmental organizations are pushing the agencies for more requirements to actually reduce conflicts, instead of ignoring the problem and simply raising the take. The Forest Service, as the agency that grants grazing permits on the lands the agency manages, has the authority to require livestock producers to do more to reduce conflicts. So does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the ultimate authority over species protected under the ESA.  The only meaningful measure in recent years that has been required, night penning of sheep, has been effective in reducing conflicts when done correctly. Now, however nearly all the conflicts are with cattle, and nothing further is being required, or even attempted, by either agency to resolve conflicts between grizzlies and cattle.

Though every situation and landscape is unique, conflict reduction measures have been proven to work elsewhere. Altering grazing patterns, having more riders with livestock, use of guard dogs and other methods have been effective. Federal agencies and the producers who graze their cattle on public lands in the Upper Green should be actively working to find solutions instead of ignoring the problem and killing more bears, particularly a threatened species trying to survive on public lands. The Upper Green has more conflicts than anywhere else in Greater Yellowstone. This is where solutions are needed most. But unfortunately for grizzly bears, federal agencies have once again bowed to political pressure and increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed in the Upper Green while avoiding the hard work of finding real and lasting solutions.

Bonnie Rice, Senior Representative Our Wild America campaign

Additional background: 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased livestock-related incidental take of grizzly bears in the Upper Green: 

USFWS 1999 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 5 grizzly bears; met or exceeded.

USFWS 2011 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 2011-2020: 6 grizzly bears within any 3 consecutive years; exceeded in 2012.

USFWS Amended Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, September 2012 through 2012 grazing season: 3 grizzly bears

USFWS 2013 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 2013-2017: 11 grizzly bears in any 3 consecutive years, with no more than 3 of the 11 being females; 6 bears, including 2 females, killed by August 2014. 

USFWS 2014 Biological Opinion/Incidental Take Statement, 2014-2019: 11 grizzly bears in any 3 consecutive years





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Speaking Francly

by Phil Knight


Francs Peak

Francs Peak, monarch of the Absaroka Range, tops thirteen thousand feet on the high divide between the Greybull and Wood Rivers. Walking the summit ridge with Kim Wilbert and Bryce Born this month, I could cast my vision across vast, remote mountain country, some of the wildest and least known terrain in the lower 48. “Bryce, check it out! It’s a grizzly!” I pointed down the steep west slope of Francs to a brown, moving blob in the talus. “Sure enough, and she’s got a cub!” Bryce exclaimed. Just then, Kim, a little bit behind us on the ridge, peered through his spotting scope and exclaimed “Guys, I’ve got seven grizzlies!!”


Looking down the west side of Francs Peak at grizzly bears feeding on moths


The bears were gathered on these steep slopes to gobble up fat army cutworm moths, one of their most important food sources. As we looked around we found grizzly scat right on the summit ridge. Gazing down at a huge boar on on a snowfield a quarter mile below us, we hoped he would stay down there.

Summit Ridge

Kim Wilbert and Bryce Born approach the summit of Francs Peak, with Washakie Needles in the distance

We’d approached the peak from the Wood River and base camped in the gorgeous Meadow Creek Basin. Coyotes howled at us, mule deer bucks bedded down by the krummholz, a bull elk showed off his growing rack, and a nasty hail and thunder storm blasted us in the evening, giving Kim a serious pummeling as he was hanging our food. We woke at 4 AM to a full moon and more howling, and summited before 9 AM, seeking to beat the afternoon storms.

Difficult access keeps this place pretty quiet. Yet it’s not designated Wilderness, and the Shoshone National Forest has some hair brained scheme to increase off road vehicle us here. The terrain is not suited to such – it’s extremely steep and cliffy – and such a spectacular place surely deserves better than more over-priced toys spewing exhaust and tearing up trails.

It seemed early in the season for bears to be eating moths. But some of their other food sources are getting harder to find. Cutthroat trout are being devoured by invasive lake trout in Yellowstone Lake. Elk herds have diminished, partly due to predation by bears. Whitebark pines, source of nourishing pine nuts, are succumbing to the quadruple threat of blister rust, pine bark beetles, wildfire and extreme weather (avalanches and windstorms).

This is Bryce and Kims’ stomping ground, but I had not been in the South Absaroka since 1991. Since then, forests across the region have been devastated by insects and fire. In the upper Wood River, most of the spruce forests is toast – the ghost town of Kirwin is surrounded by the bleak, grey trunks of a once-thriving forest. This is some of the worst forest die off I’ve seen anywhere. It’s like a hot, evil wind has blasted the land, killing off the larger trees en masse.


Dead spruce forest above the ghost town of Kirwin in the upper Wood River


Even here, far from the teaming human hordes, the impacts of industrial, petroleum-based civilization is imprinted on the land. Yet get above treeline, and it feels as wild as any place I have been. Wilderness hangs on despite our best efforts to tame everything. Bears find food and increase their numbers, even when some of their favorite foods are nearly gone. Nature is resilient, and the weeds and wilderness long will live.

As I was driving out though the gorgeous Wood River valley, a huge, dark bull moose appeared along the road, and as I stopped the car he ran right past me. His noble presence could not have offered a more dramatic contrast to the noisy, ugly oil pumpjacks lining the road. The moose jumped one fence, crossed the road behind me, jumped another, and, skirting the pumpjacks, made it to the sanctuary of the Wood River.


Bull moose dodges pumpjacks in the lower Wood River Valley


The harder we press it, the more nature will respond. The question is, how will it respond? With resilience, or with diminishment? And how far can we push the resilient side of nature, before it bites back?

Phil Knight is a thirty year resident of Greater Yellowstone and a member of the delivery team for the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone Campaign.



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