From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 44 - January 30, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Forest receives comments critical of grazing

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department joined with anti-grazing advocates and environmental groups in calling for a separation between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep in the Wyoming Range of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service issued an environmental assessment late last year proposing to add three vacant allotments into the rotation in the domestic sheep allotment complex permitted to Sweetwater County sheepman Bill Taliaferro.

The state wildlife agency stated, "We continue to emphasize the importance of seeking a solution that separates occupied bighorn sheep range from active domestic sheep allotments in the northern portion of the Wyoming Range."

A separate letter from the same agency focused its concerns on the native cutthroat trout population in the area. The letter noted that the Colorado River cutthroat trout is the only trout species indigenous to the Green River drainage and that the distribution of this trout species within the Green River drainage is greatly reduced from historic levels.

"Reasons for this decline include the introduction of non-native trout and habitat alterations due to land management activities, which include livestock grazing, road construction, timber harvest, oil and gas development and irrigation operations," the WG&F letter stated. The agency suggested that the three vacant allotments not be put into Taliaferro's grazing rotation in order to protect trout in addition to reducing stocking rates on the existing allotments.

Other commenters didn't have positive things to say about domestic sheep. Lloyd Dorsey of Jackson said, "Current management protocol by the Bridger-Teton National Forest makes the entire range inhospitable to grizzlies, mountain lions, lynx and gray wolves due to forest managers' emphasis on managing in favor of domestic sheep. Much of the adverse impacts to wildlife populations can be directly or indirectly traced to the grazing of domestic sheep in the Wyoming Range ... ."

According to Dorsey, "Domestic sheep grazing is clearly not compatible with healthy sustainable populations of large carnivores, healthy fisheries, healthy range conditions and healthy sustainable populations of bighorn sheep."

The Wyoming Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep authored a very strongly worded letter urging separation between the sheep species. The letter claimed, "The highest priority management action for bighorn sheep agreed to by government, agricultural and wild sheep interests after three years of meetings, was separation of domestic and wild sheep in Wyoming's eight core, native bighorn sheep herds."

This statement, however, is not true. This was the highest priority for the WG&F biologist and FNAWS representative to the Domestic Sheep/Bighorn Sheep Interaction Working Group, but the entire group did not agree to a priority list, let alone the one claimed by FNAWS.

In fact, one of the terms of agreement approved by the entire group stated: "Existing and/or potential conflicts between domestic and both core native and transplanted bighorn sheep should not be used as surrogate issues to force or effect resource management decisions; the retirement, reduction or removal of grazing allotments and management changes should be only on a willing permittee basis, not under a sense of urgency or duress."

FNAWS's concerns were echoed by a letter sent jointly from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Sierra Club Northern Great Plains regional office. This letter proposed that the allotments currently open to livestock grazing "be closed to this use to protect other values." The letter also perpetuates the myth that the interaction working group recommended such action.

This letter from the environmental groups acknowledges the work of the Western Watersheds Project and directly adopts some of that organization's analysis of the proposal. WWP is a self-proclaimed anti-public-lands livestock grazing organization, which Idaho's Jon Marvel is affiliated with.

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, WWP, Leo and Rosemary Benson of Bondurant, Robert Barrett of Pinedale and the Bradford Environmental Research Institute of Pinedale sent other comment letters critical of livestock grazing in the area.

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