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Sheep Grazing Disputed to Protect Grizzly Bear and Bighorn

September 18, 2015
Bryan Bird (503) 730-9242
In This Release

Friday, September 18, 2015
Sheep Grazing Disputed to Protect Grizzly Bear and Bighorn

Groups say livestock grazing creates deadly zone outside Yellowstone National Park
Contact: Bryan Bird (503) 730-9242

Additional Contacts:

John Meyer, WildEarth Guardians: (406) 587-5800

Travis Bruner, Western WatershedsProject: (208) 788-2290

Bozeman, MT – Conservationistsare challenging the United States Forest Service’s failure to protect bighornsheep and grizzly bears in Montana outside of Yellowstone National Park. The Beaverhead-DeerlodgeNational Forest authorized approximately 8,000 domestic sheep to graze in theheart of a mountainous corridor that links the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem tothe Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The Gallatin WildlifeAssociation, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and YellowstoneBuffalo Foundation are in federal court to contest the Revised Forest Plan aswell as seven grazing allotments for domestic sheep.

“The sheep are located inhistoric bighorn habitat and can transmit deadly respiratory diseases to thebighorns,” said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Thereare ten bighorn sheep herds on or near the Forest and the Forest Plan is failingto maintain their viability.”

In 2013, Montana Fish, Wildlifeand Parks attempted to trap a grizzly bear after it killed domestic sheep inone of the allotments. A few weeks later, a sheepherder killed another grizzlybear after it repeatedly depredated on domestic sheep.

“The Gravelly Mountains are animportant corridor connecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population ofgrizzly bears to the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population,” saidTravis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watershed Project. “Connecting thetwo populations is key for the genetic health of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears.”

The groups allege the ForestService violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed toprepare supplemental NEPA analysis for the Allotment Management Plans afterlearning about the conflicts. The seven domestic sheepallotments being challenged include Black Butte, Cottonwood, Posion Basin, LyonWolverine, Hellroaring, Coal Creek, and Barnett.

“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem containsthe greatest concentration of large mammals in the lower forty-eight states, “said Bird. “Elk, bison, bighorn sheep, lynx, wolves, wolverines, and grizzlybears are all found here.”

In 1900, there were an estimated 100,000bighorn sheep in Montana. Today, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimatesthat fewer than 6,000 remain. Disease transmission from domestic sheep tobighorn sheep is largely responsible for the loss of wild bighorn sheep inMontana. An MOU authorizes the domestic sheep producers to kill any bighornsheep that comes within one-quarter mile of the domestic sheep.

Once over 50,000 strong in the lowerforty-eight states, grizzlies were reduced to less than 1,000 bears by 1975. Ina historical blink of an eye, from the 1800s to the early 1900s, humans reducedthe range of grizzly bears to less than 2 percent of its former range south ofCanada, limiting the bear to a few isolated populations in mountainous regions,wilderness areas, and national parks in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, approximately 600 bears remain inisolated habitat.

“The establishment and protection ofcorridors and linkage habitat between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and theNorthern Continental Divide Ecosystem is essential for the long-term geneticviability of Yellowstone Grizzly bears,” said Bird. “The Forest Service hasauthorized domestic sheep to graze in the heart of this important corridor.”

The region from Yellowstone National Park tothe Yukon is widely recognized as a vital stronghold for the world’s remainingwildlands and biodiversity, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is asignificant component of this region.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem encompassesmillions of acres across southwest Montana, eastern Idaho, and northwestWyoming, including two national parks, seven national forests, a dozenwilderness areas, and the headwaters of several of the United States best knownrivers. Over seventy-five percent of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem consistsof federal, public lands.

As grizzly bears have begun to move out ofYellowstone National Park and into the Gravelly Range, conflicts with domesticsheep have occurred. Sheepherders have killed grizzly bears on the allotmentsafter they depredated on domestic sheep. The lawsuit contests domestic sheepgrazing because of the grave threat to native bighorn sheep and grizzly bears inthe important corridor.

Other Contact
John Meyer, WildEarth Guardians: (406) 587-5800
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