From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 30 - October 23, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Sheep grazing EIS released

by Cat Urbigkit

It's one of the shortest draft environmental impact statements Sublette County has seen in a long time. At only 120 pages, last week the Big Piney Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest issued a draft EIS proposing to continue domestic sheep grazing in the Wyoming Range Allotment Complex.

The EIS examines a range of alternatives, from current management, closing the entire area to domestic sheep grazing, to separating domestic sheep from bighorn sheep by closing some of the allotments. The agency's preferred alternative is to allow domestic sheep use on all allotments within the complex that are moving toward or meeting desired conditions.

The U.S. Forest Service planning effort involving this allotment complex has been the subject of considerable controversy for about the last four years. The Forest Service began the planning process in 1999. It was at that point that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrote a letter proposing that some of the allotments be closed to sheep grazing. Included in the letter were citations to work done by an anti-grazing activist and other statements that were remarkably similar to those made by an environmental group in their its of comment.

The WG&F letter and its allegations raised the ire of permittee Bill Taliaferro of Rock Springs, as well as the Wyoming Wool Growers Association. A series of scathing letters were then exchanged between the WWGA and WG&F.

The Forest Service issued an environmental assessment on the grazing proposal last year, received comments on that, then backtracked and decided to prepare an EIS instead. That EIS was issued last week, and public comments will be accepted on the draft document until Dec. 9.

Meanwhile, Taliaferro was granted permits to graze sheep within three previously vacant allotments in the area. This Forest Service-administrative action, along with some boundary changes, has resulted in Taliaferro's range now encompassing seven grazing allotments for a total of 67,500 acres. Taliaferro runs five bands of 1,300 mature ewes with lambs on that range, usually from about July 11 to Sept. 25, dependent upon conditions.

The federal agency's proposed action calls for each allotment to be rested from grazing at least two of every seven years. For any allotment not meeting ground-cover objectives, one band of sheep will be reduced and will not be reinstated until the objectives are met.

According to the EIS, the only difference between current management and the proposed alternative is that the proposed action alternative includes more restrictive livestock utilization limits based on current ground cover. The agency pointed out that forest standards will be met under the preferred alternative, and the allotments would experience upward trends in ground cover, improvements in overall watershed and vegetation conditions, and provide less opportunity for commingling between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep.

Separation of the two sheep species is advocated by some groups who are concerned about the potential for disease transmission.

Another alternative examined in the draft EIS would separate domestic sheep from bighorn sheep by closing most of the allotments to domestic sheep use. This alternative would knock the number of sheep bands allowed to graze in the allotment complex from the five bands currently permitted to only two bands.

For more information on the draft EIS, contact the Big Piney District Ranger Greg Clark at 307-276-3375. Comments should be submitted to District Ranger, Big Piney Ranger District, Box 218, Big Piney, Wyo., 83113.

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