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

For Immediate Release
June 28, 2005

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist, Center 760.366.2232 x306
Paul McFarland, Director, Friends 760.873.6400


Domestic sheep spread disease to bighorns, and eat important bighorn forage

RENO – 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. On June 6, several prominent conservation groups, including the Center and Bishop-based Friends of the Inyo, strongly opposed a plan to kill bighorns to 'protect' them from disease, instead proposing to keep domestic sheep away from recovering bighorn herds, see LA Times, Plan to Kill Bighorns to Protect Herds From Disease Protested, June 8.

The Forest Service is jeopardizing bighorn recovery by not moving toward full removal of domestic sheep from bighorn habitat. The government instead plans to heap 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).

Conversations with officials revealed that US Rep. Pombo (R-CA) has been pushing the agency to not 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, often complains agencies are not doing enough to recover endangered species, is advocating a position that would directly harm bighorn recovery.

As decided by the US Supreme Court, ranchers do not have a ‘right’ to graze public lands, they have a permitted privilege subject to end or modification at any time due to other needs, such as conservation and recovery of endangered wildlife like Sierra Nevada bighorns.

Domestic sheep may be allowed on Sierra Nevada bighorn habitat as soon as Friday, according to the Forest Service. The Bush Fish and Wildlife Service also seems to be ignoring bighorn recovery, and is going along with the Forest Service plan. Conservationists have requested a tour of the mountain public lands in question with the Forest Service, grazing permittee, and others to explore solutions to keep diseased domestic sheep far away from bighorns, but so far have been shut out of meetings between the government and the permittee.

"The Forest Service has an ethcial responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to promote recovery of these majestic bighorns, by doing the right thing to modify or close these public land grazing allotments now," said Daniel R. Patterson, ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The American people want wild bighorn sheep recovered in the scenic Sierra Nevada for future generations. Domestic sheep are a clear threat to bighorn, and the benefit of the doubt should be given to wild bighorn recovery, not economic greed."

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.

The deadly proposal to ‘protect’ bighorns from domestic sheep by killing them is unwise, contrary to common sense, immoral, and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act, our nation's most important wildlife law. A better, cheaper, and much more ethical approach would be to keep domestic sheep out of bighorn habitat. Removing the domestic sheep conflict would protect the bighorns and public-interest for wildlife conservation.

Sierra Nevada bighorn are California’s sheep, but they are being harmed by environmentally-hostile politics from Nevada. CDFG has already been killing wild mountain lions to ‘save’ bighorns. Favoring domestic sheep while killing both wild lions and wild bighorns is turning this popular recovery program into a controversial one.

Conservationists want a true solution for the bighorn, but due to hostile federal politics are having to explore a lawsuit to protect bighorns if forced by government irresponsibility. The Center is awaiting Forest Service response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking important records about this situation.


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