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Sep 3, 2020

NWF Announces New Campaign and Retires Grazing on 9,000 Acres

The Rio Grande Gorge is a Critical Migratory Path
The Rio Grande Gorge is a Critical Migratory Path

For nearly two decades the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has worked to resolve conflicts between livestock and wildlife throughout the West. Through a collaborative, market-based approach, NWF directly partners with livestock ranchers by providing compensation to retire grazing areas that experience chronic conflicts with bighorn sheep, bison, elk, trout and carnivores such as wolves and bears.

As we look to the future, we are excited to announce a five-year, $3 million campaign to expand this successful model to the Southern Rockies. Whether you’ve backpacked in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado or rafted the Rio Grande in Northern New Mexico, you’ve witnessed the spectacular beauty of our public lands and perhaps even seen wild bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer or fished for native trout. These species and many others depend on intact wildlife habitat that is often impacted by overgrazing, habitat degradation and disease spread from domestic livestock. 

To date, through our member-driven Adopt a Wildlife Acre program (nwf.org/wcr) we have protected more than 1.5 million acres of wildlife habitat in New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. 

In the Northern Rockies Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Adopt a Wildlife Acre has yielded significant wins for wildlife, including expanded acreage for migrating bison, a greater tolerance for grizzlies and wolves outside of park boundaries and even reduced risk of disease transfer between domestic and bighorn sheep.  

In addition to launching this campaign, we’re excited to announce our most recent success, protecting bighorn sheep across 9,000 acres of the Upper Rio Grande in Northern New Mexico.  At a cost of $75,000, NWF has protected the future of bighorn sheep in the Rio Grande Gorge (see attached fact sheet for more information). With the help of our members and supporters, we look forward to continuing this work and fighting for wildlife in New Mexico.

If you would like to learn more about our unique market-based strategy we use to reduce conflicts between livestock and wildlife and ways to support our work in New Mexico and across the West, please contact either of us – we’d love to hear from you.

Retiring the Santos Allotment Protects Wild Sheep
Retiring the Santos Allotment Protects Wild Sheep

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May 8, 2020

Protecting Bighorns in the Weminuche Wilderness

Photo by B. Schillereff
Photo by B. Schillereff

High in the Weminuche Wilderness, in the San Juan Range of the Southern Rockies you’ll find some of the highest and most rugged mountains in North America. The Weminuche is the largest designated Wilderness Area in Colorado and home to one of its highest priority herds of bighorn sheep. Known as the Vallecito herd, it is recognizable by it’s darkly colored fur, a trait unique to this population as seen in the photos below.

Historically numbering around 2 million in North America, today there are only an estimated 60,000 wild sheep remaining, only 3% of their original population. It was even worse in the 1950s when the continental population had dwindled to about 1% of historic numbers. Starting in the ‘50s, state wildlife agencies began transplanting bighorn sheep into previously occupied habitat in an effort to repopulate areas where wild sheep had been extirpated. The Vallecito herd however, is a remnant (i.e., indigenous herd) that was never extirpated and as a result is one of the three highest priority bighorn herds in Colorado.

As we have outlined previously, domestic sheep carry a number of pathogens that if transmitted to bighorn sheep, can cause the die-off of most or even all of that Bighorn herd. As humans are currently experiencing the first global pandemic in a century, the parallels between COVID-19 and the decimation of bighorn sheep over the last 150 years are difficult to ignore. As humans, we are extremely fortunate that the fatality rate, though horrible, is so much lower that the 30%-90% mortality that bighorn herds experience following the transmission of the pneumonia pathogen from domestic sheep. As with COVID-19 and social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the only effective strategy to prevent all-age die-offs is to create separation between domestic and wild sheep.

The good news is that we have just completed the retirement of the 11,150 acre Endlich Mesa domestic sheep grazing allotment that will help keep separation between domestic and wild sheep, preventing the transmission of the pathogens to the Vallecito herd of bighorn sheep. After a year of negotiations, in April, NWF signed an agreement with the multi-generational ranching family and will provide fair-market compensation to permanently retire the allotment. The permanent removal of domestic sheep will go a long way in helping the Vallecito herd return to its historic numbers. As for the rancher, he’s still in the business, adapting to the needs of wildlife. He recently remarked, “My family has grazed this allotment for decades and waiving the allotment back to the Forest Service for the benefit of bighorn sheep, which we love, was a very difficult decision. Thankfully though, the National Wildlife Federation provided us with a way to do this.”

We are grateful for the many years of generous support received through GlobalGiving, which has helped us fund these allotment retirements. This is a very cost-efficient conservation strategy and for this allotment, a $100 dollar contribution will retire 15 acres. We understand these are uncertain times, but as always, we appreciate all of the support GlobalGiving Community provides.

Photo by J Buickerood
Photo by J Buickerood
Photo By J Buickerood
Photo By J Buickerood
Photo by B Schillereff
Photo by B Schillereff
Jan 16, 2020

Creating Safe Habitat for Grizzly Bears and Wolves

Scanning for wolves and bears outside Grand Teton
Scanning for wolves and bears outside Grand Teton

For nearly 20 years, National Wildlife Federation has been working to reduce conflicts between wildlife and livestock grazing on public lands across the West. To date, NWF has eliminated conflicts on over 1.5 million acres of public lands, creating safe havens for grizzly bears, wolves, bison and bighorn sheep.  Paying ranchers to give up their grazing permits recognizes the economic value of livestock grazing and provides financial opportunity to move their livestock to areas of far less conflict.  A win for ranchers. A win for wildlife. And a win for long-term conservation of public lands.  Through the support of individual donors, we have created new opportunity for wildlife to thrive.  At $4/acre grazing retirements have proven to be a cost effective means at reducing conflict on the landscape.  For example, a $50 donation can fund approximately 12 acres of conflict-free habitat.  

While we have achieved tremendous wins for wildlife, we still have much work to do.  Conflicts between bears and wolves predating on livestock remains one of the primary causes of mortality for these animals. To further protect these animals it is critical that we address key conflict areas. In Montana we are actively negotiating several key grazing agreements that would protect over 50,000 additional acres, allowing grizzly bears and wolves to exist on the landscape without conflicts.  We have two upcoming opportunities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to protect bears and wolves and an additional opportunity adjacent to Glacier National Park. 

The National Wildlife Federation is successful because we spend time developing the long-term relationships and trust with ranchers and state and federal agencies that are key to making long-term changes on the land.  In addition to our work in the Northern Rockies, we continue to work in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming developing agreements with domestic sheep operations that are limiting the ability of wild bighorn sheep to expand their populations because disease spread from domestic sheep.  We are looking forward to a successful 2020 and we owe much of this to the continued support of our donors.  Thank you!

A Griz emerging in Yellowstone (credit Jim Peaco)
A Griz emerging in Yellowstone (credit Jim Peaco)

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