National Wildlife Federation's Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre campaign has many real-life examples of just how important this program work is and its impact on retiring livestock grazing land for wildlife's use. A recent example occured in the beautiful state of Montana. For 28 years, Rick Jarrett ran cattle on 8,000 acres in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, just outside Yellowstone National Park. “It is beautiful land,” says the burly fifth-generation rancher—a rugged paradise of rich grass, sagebrush and forest, cut by the sparkling Taylor Fork of the Gallatin River. Cattle did well there. Jarrett didn’t actually own the land, instead holding a grazing permit from the U.S. Forest Service. But he took good care of it, earning a government commendation for his stewardship.
Unfortunately for Jarrett, cows weren’t the only animals thriving in the Taylor Fork region. Bison wandered in from Yellowstone and grizzly bears roamed the area, sometimes killing his livestock. And then a few years back, a dozen wolves moved in, and Jarret’s problems became more severe.
Jarrett recently decided that the increasing conflicts with wildlife—plus higher diesel fuel prices that raised the cost of trucking cattle—were too much to deal with. But he also didn’t want to lose the value of his grazing rights. That’s when he heard of an innovative National Wildlife Federation (NWF) program aimed at benefiting both ranchers and wildlife. The idea: Pay ranchers to give up grazing allotments, then get the Forest Service to permanently retire the permits. After working with NWF Special Projects Coordinator Hank Fischer, who directs the program, Jarrett took home a check for $50,000. The bison, grizzlies and wolves got the land. “I was looking for solutions, not playing politics, and so was NWF and Hank,” says Jarrett. “I guess that’s why it worked so well.”
NWF’s Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre program has now relieved wildlife/livestock conflicts on more than 650,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. That’s an area about twice as large as Grand Teton National Park. The program is a prime example of how NWF’s habitat protection efforts have evolved with the times. It’s also a rare success story in a region where grazing rights traditionally have been viewed as an almost-sacred entitlement by ranchers, and where conservation groups and the livestock industry are usually at loggerheads. The NWF program “shows that environmental organizations can do something instead of just complaining and arguing,” says Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). “It’s a win-win for the ranchers and for the grizzlies and other wildlife.”
The National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre program plans to place special emphasis during the next year on retiring domestic sheep grazing allotments in Idaho and Wyoming that pose significant threats to bighorn sheep populations.
Bighorn sheep often contract deadly diseases from domestic sheep. These disease outbreaks frequently reduce herd sizes by more than seventy per cent.
The U.S. Forest Service will soon complete an analysis of the risk posed by domestic sheep/bighorn sheep conflicts on National Forests in the West. The National Wildlife Federation believes this analysis will help pinpoint the situations where our Adopt a Wildlife Acre program will do the most good.
It has taken an incredible amount of work over the past decade to get us to the point we’re at today. NWF has focused on voluntary grazing retirements, and this approach has won strong public support as a proactive, free-market method to solving conflicts involving wildlife and livestock. Our first key retirement for bison was the Horse Butte allotment, which resolved a significant conflict on the western side of the park. We then retired the Cache-Eldridge and Wapiti allotments in the Gallatin River drainage, which opens up a substantial area suitable for bison. Then we retired the Slip and Slide allotment north of the park by Gardiner.
But perhaps our most important grazing agreement involved private land. Working in partnership with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, NWF negotiated an agreement with the Church Universal and Triumphant to cease cattle grazing on the church-owned Royal Teton Ranch, near Yellowstone’s northern entrance. This has been a bottleneck for bison movement north of the park.
These retirements have led to the current situation where the risk of contact between bison and livestock is very low. And we know that the potential for disease transmission between bison and cattle is extremely low if separation is maintained during birthing periods.
Wildlife advocates, of course, see the value of opening more habitat to bison. But the livestock industry should welcome the move as well. Why?
As long as bison are effectively confined within the borders of the national park, managing the species’ population and movements will remain extremely difficult. And, as history has shown, it’s only a matter of time before the next bad winter sends bison into troubling territory—resulting in the untenable situation of hazing, capturing and slaughtering wildlife. By allowing bison to occupy sizeable habitat outside the park year-round, Fish, Wildlife and Parks, interested tribes, and Montana sportsmen will have the opportunity to play their constructive, traditional and socially acceptable roles to help manage the bison to a population that is suitable to livestock interests.
Less conflict, less risk, more opportunity and more room for bison to roam free: We have a historic opportunity to resolve a frustrating and longstanding conflict. The hard work’s been done. Now it’s just a matter of encouraging state officials to say “yes” to the win-win solution before them.
Help us give bison room to roam by taking action now!
Learn more about our symbolic adoption program.
We thank you for your help in retiring this critical acreage!
National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre Project Update: February 2014
National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre program continues to see incredible success. To date, the program has succeeded in retiring more than 680,000 acres of vital wildlife habitat, securing safe areas for wildlife to roam. Most recently, thanks to successful NWF negotiations in 2013, we eliminated conflict between domestic and wild bighorn sheep by retiring grazing privileges on 12,000 acres of Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. This retirement will prevent domestic sheep from spreading fatal disease to two herds of bighorn sheep.
Thank you for your help in retiring this critical acreage! Retirement of these domestic sheep allotments is also important for enhancing trout habitat and rebuilding a wildlife corridor between the Greater Yellowstone and Salmon Selway ecosystems.
Removing domestic sheep allows riparian vegetation to flourish, which improves water quality and cool streams during Montana’s hot summers. The end of sheep grazing and the wildlife conflicts they created also allows large carnivores such as grizzly bears and wolves to move more freely across the mountain ranges between Montana and Idaho.
The efforts of Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre are on-going to retire more acreage across the region in order to give wildlife the opportunity to roam and thrive in their native habitat. Thank you for making our project a success!
National Wildlife Federation is making great strides in our efforts to protect wildlife and we are so grateful for the support of our generous donors and friends at Global Giving who are helping us reach our goals. To date, NWF has already secured more than 620,000 acres of vital wildlife habitat. NWF has restored 61 wild, Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in March 2012, and since then, more than 20 calves have been born to the herd. This was the first-ever return of wild bison to tribal lands after more than a century of being absent from their native prairie habitat. Through these efforts and more, bison have slowly begun to recover and thrive. With the help of our supporters, we will continue to move forward with our Adopt-a-Wildlife-Acre program to restore bison to the expansive Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR).
To expand on our efforts, NWF’s Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre is also focusing on wild bighorn sheep In Montana. They are facing devastating, deadly outbreaks of pneumonia when coming into contact with domestic sheep carrying the disease. The diseases are highly contagious and often fatal, leading to slow and painful deaths. The situation is complicated because scientists don’t fully understand how these diseases spread. As long as domestic sheep continue to graze on public lands near major herds of bighorn sheep, the bighorns will remain at risk of catastrophic illness.
Another problem - bighorn rams roam far and wide in search of a mate, often onto public lands where domestic sheep grazing is permitted. Entire herds of bighorn sheep are at risk of contracting deadly diseases if they come into contact with those domestic sheep. One recent study found a single domestic sheep caused more than 86 bighorn deaths between 1997 to 2000.
Fortunately, we have chance to resolve these conflicts. Just as we are doing for bison, we now have the chance to “retire” domestic sheep grazing privileges in key areas adjacent to bighorn sheep habitat, including two critical allotments spanning 12,000 acres in southwest Montana. The two bighorn herds that are adjacent to these domestic sheep allotments have suffered two 75-percent reductions in their populations in the last thirty years due to disease outbreaks. Retiring grazing privileges would be a huge improvement for the health of local bighorn herds.
NWF is taking advantage of this rare opportunity and with the support of our donors will be able to purchase domestic sheep grazing allotments that border bighorn sheep habitat, and retire these lands from grazing by domestic animals.
We at NWF, along with our wildlife friends, cannot thank you enough for your help and support!
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