The National Wildlife Federation’s most recent Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre work has focused on resolving conflicts between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep that graze on public lands in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Domestic sheep frequently harbor a type of pneumonia that is easily transmitted to bighorns and often results in large-scale die-offs. Entire herds have been decimated and the diseases can become endemic in the bighorns that do not die outright, leading to high lamb mortality and a continuing downward spiral in the bighorn population.
These disease issues have caused wholesale declines in bighorn sheep herds across the West. It is estimated that in the last century, bighorn sheep populations have declined from 70,000 animals to as low as 30,000.
At the end of April, NWF completed two important grazing retirement agreements in southeastern Idaho that will significantly reduce the disease risk that bighorn sheep face in that area. While all of NWF’s previous retirements have occurred on National Forest lands, our latest Adopt-A Wildlife-Acre project is on the Howe Peak allotment which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
According to NWF Regional Executive Director Tom France, “The Howe Peak retirement establishes an important precedent as BLM manages many domestic sheep allotments that overlap key parts of bighorn sheep range in many western states. We are encouraged the BLM recognizes grazing retirements can work for ranchers as well as for wildlife.”
The National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre started out 2015 with three major successes in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, eliminating wildlife/livestock conflicts on nearly 70,000 acres of public lands for less than $200,000! Most notably, these significant changes occurred voluntarily with little controversy.
Here’s how: NWF’s market-based program offers fair payment to ranchers in exchange for their agreement to retire grazing leases that experience chronic conflict with wildlife. When ranchers have problems with wildlife (disease, predation, etc.) it can cut into their bottom line. We offer payment sufficient to secure grazing in new locations without all the problems. A win for them and a win for wildlife. As rancher Rick Jarret, who recently completed a grazing retirement agreement with NWF, summed up, “I was looking for solutions, not playing politics, and so was NWF. I guess that’s why it worked so well.”
The early successes for 2015 include:
--the 22,000-acre Upper Gros Ventre cattle allotment on the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Jackson, Wyoming, a scene of repeated conflicts between cattle and large carnivores. This area contains extremely high quality habitat for grizzly bears and wolves, and much of it lies in designated wilderness. NWF was able to negotiate a retirement agreement for $100,000.
--the 36,000-acre Nicholia-Chandler domestic sheep allotment, on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in eastern Idaho. Domestic sheep have been passing diseases to bighorn sheep in this area for many decades, frequently resulting in large die-offs. The allotment cost $60,000 to retire.
--the 11,000-acre Billy Creek allotment on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in northeastern Montana. NWF has now developed grazing agreements on over 60,000 acres of the CMR: significant progress in turning it into the refuge it should be. The most recent agreement cost $37,000.
NWF’s grazing retirements provide significant benefits for multiple species. Conflict with livestock is a major barrier to the expansion of grizzly bear and wolf populations. Bison have not been allowed to leave Yellowstone National Park for fear they will transmit disease to cattle, but NWF’s grazing retirements are removing that concern. Retiring domestic sheep allotments that are adjacent to bighorn sheep herds provides relief from disease transmission, and has become an increasingly important focal point of NWF’s Adopt-A- Wildlife-Acre project.
Since the program began in 2002, Adopt-An-Acre has retired livestock grazing on more than 600,000 contentious acres of public land in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including many allotments that have been flashpoints for decades. Here’s a link to a map that displays where the retirements have occurred over the last thirteen years: http://nwf-wcr.org/PDFs/WCR-MAP-Yellowstone-Retirements-FINAL.pdf
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!
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