Tribes’ Lawyer Slams Wyoming Rep. Cheney’s Response to Grizzly Relisting
"The tribes would not take a back seat to Ms. Cheney on defining who is really trying to protect the Western way of life," Jeff Rasmussen said.
The primary lawsuit that led to the relisting of the grizzly bear on the Endangered Species list was brought by people who were not "radical environmentalists intent on destroying our Western way of life" as characterized by Wyoming Republican U.S Rep. Liz Cheney last week, according to the lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs in "Crow Indian Tribe vs. United States of America" filed two years ago were more than a dozen tribes and tribal leaders, Jeff Rasmussen said.
No environmental groups were plaintiffs in this case, either, said Rasmussen, a partner in the Louisville, Colo., office of Fredericks Peebles & Patterson LLP, which focuses on tribal issues.
Rasmussen first saw Cheney's statement late last week that said in part, "The court-ordered relisting of the grizzly was not based on science or facts, but was rather the result of excessive litigation pursued by radical environmentalists intent on destroying our Western way of life."
Rasmussen said Cheney did not seem to understand the lawsuit, its intent, or the people who filed it.
"To have a congresswoman say the tribes are out to destroy the Western way of life, I was taken aback by that, and disappointed that she would say that without having apparently having looked at the case and having looked at what we're trying to do, and looked at the science here," he said.
"The tribes would not take a back seat to Ms. Cheney on defining who is really trying to protect the Western way of life," Rasmussen said.
Cheney's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Rasmussen said the Crow and other tribes and tribal members brought the lawsuit as an effort to protect their tribal way of life.
The lawsuit went into detail about how the grizzly bear is culturally important, and necessary for the tribes to freely practice their religion, he said.
At one point, the lawsuit states, "The spiritual health of both the tribal and individual Plaintiffs depends upon the health and protection of the GYE [Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem] grizzly bear. The continued existence and expansion of grizzly bears back into their traditional habitat range is necessary to ensure that the Plaintiffs have the ability to freely express their religious faith."
Besides the threat to their religious freedom, the tribes repeatedly showed how they were excluded from the delisting decision-making process by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rasmussen said environmental organizations that filed similar lawsuits to relist the grizzly bear showed the science was not adequate to support the delisting action taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
But that wasn't the point of the tribes' lawsuit or his law firm, he said. "We represent tribes on both sides of environmental issues."
For example, he represented the Ute Indian Tribe when it joined the State of Wyoming and other plaintiffs' 2015 lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior over a hydraulic fracturing issue. Because of that, some environmental organizations were even leery that his firm was involved in the large issue, he added.
Rasmussen hopes the tribes, environmental groups and Cheney would agree that the goal is to protect the grizzly bears and not let them go extinct, which is what the Endangered Species Act is about, he said. "The science right now is just not there to support what the Fish and Wildlife Service was wanting to do, and that's why the judge ruled the way he did."
The tribes filed the lawsuit and petition for an injunction to block delisting on June 30, 2017, against the United States, Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and were joined by nine co-defendants including the State of Wyoming.
Four other cases were consolidated into the primary Crow Indian Case because they had common questions of law and fact. The other cases in the consolidation were brought by the Humane Society of the United States, Wildearth Guardians, the Cheyenne Tribe, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, according to federal court records.
Other environmental organizations brought their own litigation, but the Crow Indian Tribe remained the lead case.
On Sept. 24, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ordered the grizzly bear to be relisted according to the Endangered Species Act because the Fish and Wildlife Service exceeded its legal authority when it delisted the bear.
The defendants have since appealed the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In her statement, Cheney said she has introduced legislation to overrule the order, which is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Rasmussen responded that she "has done so without even learning the basic facts about the case."