Center for Biological Diversity

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

For Immediate Release: August 7, 2006

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity, 520.623.5252 x306

Endangered Bighorn Protected from Sheep Grazing
in Key Sierra Nevada Habitat

RENO, Nev. – To protect endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep from deadly disease this summer, the U.S. Forest Service has wisely halted risky domestic sheep grazing in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in the eastern Sierra Nevada.

“After much evidence was presented, the Forest Service honored concerns raised by scientists and conservationists and made a decent decision for this year,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agreement must be closely watched to ensure it is followed daily on the ground to monitor bighorn movements – a key component of the Forest Service’s decision.”

Because domestic sheep can spread disease to the endangered bighorn, the Forest Service will not permit domestic sheep grazing near occupied bighorn habitat on the Dunderberg Allotment in Mono County this year. The Forest Service is also limiting grazing in bighorn habitat on two nearby allotments, Tamarack and Cameron Canyon. Some risk to bighorn remains on the Tamarack and Cameron Canyon allotments north of Dunderberg Peak, but if bighorn move further north this year, domestic sheep grazing may be halted there as well.

This year’s bighorn protective measures came in response to concerns raised by scientists and conservationists about disease transmission from domestic sheep, which could prevent the survival and recovery of the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn. The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Inyo and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility welcome this key step by the Forest Service towards long-term protection and recovery of bighorn in the Eastern Sierra.

"It is refreshing and encouraging to see the Forest Service listening to and responding to biologists, including its own," said Karen Schambach, California Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is one of the most well-known and magnificent species in the Sierra Nevada. Bighorn are found primarily on steep eastern slopes and high alpine meadows from north of Yosemite National Park through the mountains to south of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Sierra Nevada bighorn can range up to the highest peaks in excess of 14,000 feet in elevation to about 5,500 feet in elevation.

Over the last 20 years, the State of California, National Park Service and many others have dedicated substantial resources to bring the Sierra Nevada bighorn back from the brink of extinction. However, the bighorn continued to decline. The species did not begin to rebound until its emergency listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. At that time, there were as few as 125 adult bighorn remaining in the Sierra Nevada; today there are more than 300. This trend towards recovery of the bighorn again demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act works.

As the bighorn have slowly repopulated the high country in Yosemite Park and moved further north and east into Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Inyo National Forest, they are confronted with increased threats – primarily disease transmission from domestic sheep. Domestic sheep grazing in bighorn habitat is incompatible with the species’ long-term survival and recovery. The federal government’s own interagency task force and other experts recommend a buffer zone of between nine and 14.3 miles between bighorn habitat and domestic sheep grazing.

The conservation groups are encouraged by the decision to enforce new limits on domestic sheep grazing in bighorn habitat.

“It is very heartening to see the Forest Service step up to help ensure the continued successful recovery of the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep,” said Paul McFarland, Executive Director of Friends of the Inyo, a Bishop-based public lands and wildlife conservation organization. “This current decision is just one more step toward restoring the Sierra's bravest mountaineer to its ancestral alpine haunts.”

Dunderberg Peak, photo by Daniel R. Patterson, June 2006

The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Tucson, Arizona and has more than 25,000 members across the nation. The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization that utilizes science, law, education and citizen activism to protect and restore endangered species and wild places. The Center also has offices in Phoenix, Arizona; Washington D.C.; Los Angeles, San Diego, Joshua Tree, San Francisco, and Shelter Cove, California; Silver City, New Mexico; and Portland, Oregon.


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