Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release August 26, 2005

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist & Desert Program Director 520.623.5252 x306
More Information: Notice of Intent to Sue


Domestic sheep spread fatal disease to bighorns; unmanaged recreation, roads and off-road vehicles also threats. Critical habitat will help recovery.

RENO – The Center for Biological Diversity noticed the Bush administration this week of an intent to go to court for bighorn habitat conservation and completion of a species recovery plan. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has had many years to designate bighorn recovery habitat, but won’t do it, forcing the issue toward the courts. Critical habitat is the most important tool that works for endangered species conservation and recovery. Critical habitat designation provides important and useful maps to land managers, helping them make decisions to benefit wildlife and people.

"The Bush administration has an ethical and legal responsibility to promote recovery of the majestic Sierra Nevada bighorn. Designating critical habitat as a recovery safety net is the right thing to do, and it will work," said Daniel R. Patterson, an Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “People want wild bighorn sheep recovered in the scenic Sierra Nevada for future generations, and critical habitat provides the way to do it. Protecting critical habitat protects the Sierra Nevada quality of life."

Sierra Nevada bighorn recovery has been especially threatened this summer. Despite a clear threat to recovery of endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the Bush Forest Service is not taking strong action to keep disease-spreading domestic sheep away from bighorns. Poorly managed recreation, roads, and off-road vehicles are also threats.

The Los Angeles Times raised concerns in July about forest service mismanagement risking bighorn recovery.

The Forest Service is jeopardizing bighorn recovery with poor land management. The agency is allowing domestic sheep grazing in bighorn habitat this year, and it continues until mid-October. Instead of protecting habitat, the government is heaping more public subsidies for ranching, by paying for more herding of private domestic sheep, a method rejected by the Sierra Nevada bighorn recovery plan: “Despite their strong herding behavior, history indicates that domestic sheep have an inherent tendency to stray. While better husbandry may help limit this tendency, sheep herders cannot be expected to control it entirely. Bighorn sheep, especially males, have also been known to move in to domestic sheep herds. Consequently, it has been recognized that the safest solution where bighorn sheep are at risk is to provide large buffer distances between the two species. BLM guidelines… suggested that buffer distances as great as 13.5 km (9 miles) may be necessary…” (p. 13).

Documents the Center gained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that US Rep. Pombo (R-CA) has been pushing against bighorn recovery by bullying the Forest Service not to interfere with domestic sheep interests, who are resisting changing grazing practices on the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest help bighorn recovery. A notorious voice against conservation, Pombo, in attacks on the Endangered Species Act, often complains agencies are not doing enough to recover endangered species, but Pombo himself pushes positions that directly harm bighorn recovery.

Disease is a major threat to bighorn survival and recovery, but not the only one. Domestic sheep also compete with bighorns for limited food plants, compromising bighorn diets. Domestic sheep also foul watersheds, and bring mountain lion and other predator killing.

Conservationists want a true solution for the bighorn, but due to irresponsible Bush management must go to court to protect bighorns. The Center’s August 23 notice gives the Interior Dept. two months notice to cooperatively negotiate a solution or go to court.

The Center is a 15,000 member international conservation organization based in Tucson, and is represented in this action by staff attorney John Buse.

LOS ANGELES TIMES – July 9 05,1,5908941.story

PEAK EXPERIENCES – Battle of the Bighorn

Over the last six years, a battle to save the endangered bighorn sheep has succeeded beyond the expectations of the state and federal agencies and advocacy groups that launched the project along the eastern Sierra Nevada in California and Nevada. The numbers of this unique species, separate from the desert bighorn in Southern California, have rebounded from about 100 to as many as 350. Now the state Fish and Game Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are considering a regulation that would allow them to trap or kill bighorns, ostensibly in order to save them. It's a classic case of bureaucratic wrongheadedness.

The aim is to protect the bighorns from catching fatal diseases, such as pneumonia, from domestic sheep that are allowed to graze in portions of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, home to about 20 of the wild sheep. Incredibly, the U.S. Forest Service still allows about 6,500 domestic sheep to graze on leases covering about 175,000 acres. That's a fraction of what it used to be, but enough to present a danger if the two species mingle. Then the Fish and Game Department would be summoned to trap or kill the bighorns to prevent them from infecting other wild sheep.

In summer, the nimble and elusive bighorns rock-hop as high as 14,000 feet in the Sierra. At times, however, they drop lower to graze. That's the danger zone.

Summer grazing of domestic sheep in the mountains was mostly phased out over the years as sheep-raising dwindled and recreation use of the forests mushroomed. "Locusts," John Muir called the herds, even though his first trip into the High Sierra was as a sheepherder.

To Daniel Patterson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, the answer is obvious and simple. "Get rid of the domestic sheep," he told The Times' Tim Reiterman.

The bureaucratic culprit here is neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nor state Fish and Game, but a U.S. Forest Service that insists on an anachronistic leasing program. The Forest Service says it will monitor both kinds of sheep over the next year in hopes of keeping them from mixing. But who knows how many bighorns might have to be quarantined or killed to see if they are ill?

The service should do as Patterson suggested. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest covers 6.3 million acres, the largest forest outside of Alaska. Surely officials can find a safer place for the sheep to graze.


more press releases. . .

Go back