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!
Our major accomplishment of the past year has been retirement of two domestic sheep grazing allotments on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in southwestern Montana. These bands of domestic sheep have been causing serious disease problems for two separate bighorn sheep herds – resulting in upwards of 75% mortality – for more than three decades.
Bear Canyon (4,586 acres) and Indian Creek (7,483 acres) lie in the headwaters of the Beaverhead River, southwest of Dillon, Montana. Bear Canyon lies on the west face of the Tendoy Mountains, while Indian Creek stretches across the Continental Divide on the Idaho/Montana. This area is a key corridor that connects the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem to the north in Idaho.
For the last several decades, the Forest Service has permitted domestic sheep (1,200 ewes and lambs) to use these areas in the summer. Much of this area is dry, high-elevation grassland with aspen groves and conifer stands. The conflict arises because domestic sheep are known to transmit diseases to bighorn sheep that can result in dramatic die-offs of the wild sheep.
These two allotments have precisely that history. Bighorn sheep were introduced to the Tendoys in 1984; the herd thrived for its first decade, but then experienced a die-off in 1993 that killed 75% of the herd (which then numbered close to 100). The herd began to build back up again, only to experience another devastating reduction in 1999, when 75% of the herd was again lost to disease. The bighorn sheep herd adjacent to Indian Creek, which lives part of the year in Idaho, has also experienced die-offs, though not as severe as Bear Canyon.
It cost NWF $50,000 to retire these two allotments from domestic sheep grazing. Our agreement with the rancher allows him to graze a small number of cattle for a short period of time on one of the allotments. There’s no conflict between the small number of cattle and the bighorn sheep herds. It’s a solution that worked not only for the bighorns, but for the rancher, as well.
While our Adopt-an-Acre program has often centered on conflicts with grizzly bears and wolves, bighorn sheep are another important wildlife species that frequently have been a focal point of our efforts. When domestic sheep come into contact with bighorn sheep, there's strong potential for disease transmission. Bighorns do not seem to have resistance to many of the pathogens that are carried by domestics. Consequently, bighorn sheep herds that range near areas that have domestic sheep frequently have large die-offs. Over the last decade these episodes of mass mortality have occurred in numerous locations. The conflicts between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep became so severe on the Payette National Forest in Idaho that environmental groups filed lawsuits to remove the domestic sheep. The National Wildlife Federation believes our approach of negotiating agreements is a superior approach if livestock producers are willing to meet us halfway. To date, we have retired over 600,000 acres surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
Winter is the time bison start migrating out of the snowy, high-elevation habitat that makes up most of Yellowstone National Park. In past years, these huge beasts have been met at park borders by government agents who either kill them, place them in pens or attempt to herd them back into the park with helicopters and snowmobiles. They do this because ranchers fear bison will compete with livestock for forage and bring diseases which cows might contract.
But thanks to the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution project – and thanks to those of you who support this work—bison are now finding secure winter habitat when they leave the Yellowstone. NWF has been instrumental in creating safe havens for bison outside the park. We achieve this by offering ranchers payment in exchange for retiring their livestock grazing privileges.
But just this week another threat to Yellowstone’s bison emerged, this time from Montana’s state legislature, where a bill has been introduced that would allow bison to be shot on sight when they leave the park. It only demonstrates that the same mentality that resulted in the slaughter of American’s bison over 150 years ago is still alive and well in some quarters.
The National Wildlife Federation continues to actively seek out opportunities for resolving conflicts between livestock and wildlife both in the area around Yellowstone National Park and within the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in northeastern Montana.
We have negotiated grazing retirements on more than 600,000 acres around Yellowstone Park, and have developed agreements with ranchers on more than 55,000 acres within the CMR. In the Yellowstone Park area, these retirements have been pivotal in resolving conflicts between large predators and cattle. Previously these problems were addressed by killing or relocating wolves and grizzly bears. Our Yellowstone retirements also provide bison with crucial winter range outside of the park, eliminating the perceived need for government agents to kill bison when they go beyond park boundaries.
Our CMR grazing retirements are setting the stage for bison restoration to this 1.1 million-acre refuge, which contains some of the best remaining prairie habitat in the United States. In the meanwhile, they benefit other prairie species such as sage grouse, pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
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