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Adopt A Wildlife Acre

by National Wildlife Federation
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
Adopt A Wildlife Acre
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
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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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NWF Partners Visiting the Allotment
NWF Partners Visiting the Allotment

Rising high above the Colorado Mountain Towns towns of Aspen, Carbondale and Marble Colorado is the Elk Range, are some of the highest and most rugged mountains in the United States. There are the two Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak, all over 14,000 feet. Nestled among these giants are many more peaks over 13,000 feet, named and unnamed. Separating the peaks are high alpine meadows, steep valleys, ice-cold lakes and streams that provide critical habitat for one of the highest priority bighorn sheep herds in Colorado as well as mountain goats, elk and other high-elevation species such as yellow-bellied marmot, american pika, white-tailed ptarmigan, brown-capped rosy finch, and nesting peregrine falcons. And up until this year, when NWF finalized the retirement of the 33,000 acre Upper Crystal River grazing allotment, 2000 domestic sheep could also be found roaming this fragile landscape between the months of July and September.

Unfortunately, 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, something that occurred in the Eastern and Western Snowmass bighorn herds in the Elk Range in the late 1980s. At that time, the total size of the two herds numbered over 450 individuals, but after likely contact with domestic sheep, the herds experienced an all-age die off, the effects of which persist to this day. The good news is that the western herd is slowly recovering, numbering approximately 200 individuals, but the western herd is languishing at approximately 60 animals and continues to decline. Although somewhat speculative, it is possible that this herd was re-infected with another strain of the pathogen causing another die-off event.

The only effective strategy to address this conflict, is to create separation between domestic and wild sheep. The historic population of bighorn sheep the western United States was 2 million which due to extreme overhunting in the late 1800s and disease over the last several decades has dwindled to 65,000 animals nation-wide and 7,000 animals in Colorado. Without removing the risk of contact between domestic and wild sheep, it is unlikely that the state-wide population will be able to grow beyond 7,000 and of course, there is the risk that the population could decline as we’ve seen with the Western Snowmass Herd. To build on our success in the Elk Range, NWF has identified approximately 20 very high risk domestic sheep allotments that if removed, would provide the conditions for the recovery of the species in large areas of southwestern Colorado.

The approach taken by The National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program is to negotiate a fair-market price with interested ranchers who hold domestic sheep public land grazing allotments in exchange for retiring their right to graze that allotment. In the case of the Upper Crystal Allotment and the Snowmass bighorn herd, NWF staff approached the permit-holder and negotiated the retirement of his permit. He was happy with the outcome and told us “this was a good business decision for me and a win-win. My sheep had gotten a lot of attention and with the money I received from NWF, I was able to buy another permit for an area farther away from bighorns which makes the wildlife people happy.” The outcome is that the only domestic sheep allotment in the Elk Range has been removed virtually eliminating the threat of pathogen transmission to wild sheep.

This NWF approach is completely voluntary and in our view, provides an equitable solution for ranchers who hold permits for high conflict grazing allotments while also meeting wildlife conservation goals by removing livestock from these high priority areas. This market-based approach recognizes the economic value of livestock grazing permits and fairly compensates livestock producers for retiring their leases. After twenty years of success, the National Wildlife Federation has established a new national model for resolving intractable conflicts between livestock and wildlife habitat retiring to date, over 1.5 million acres of public land grazing permits, an area the size of Delaware.

High Alpine Habitat in the Allotment
High Alpine Habitat in the Allotment
Upper Crystal River Allotment Alpine Meadows
Upper Crystal River Allotment Alpine Meadows
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Partners Visiting the Crooked Creek Allotment
Partners Visiting the Crooked Creek Allotment

Where conflicts between livestock and wildlife are prolonged and intractable, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) believes that public land grazing retirements can provide an equitable solution for ranchers and wildlife interests. In coordination with federal land managers, the NWF negotiates with livestock producers to retire livestock grazing allotments that experience chronic conflict with wildlife, especially wolves, grizzly bears, bison, and bighorn sheep. This market approach recognizes the economic value of livestock grazing permits and fairly compensates producers for retiring their leases. This approach establishes an important new national model for resolving conflicts between livestock and wildlife habitat.

Most recently, the NWF completed the retirement of three grazing allotments in Idaho that will eliminate the risk of disease transmission between domestic and wild sheep. The Crooked Creek, Mahogany Butte and Cedar Point-Eightmile domestic sheep allotments are vast and consist of 140,000 acres of prime sagebrush habitat in southern Idaho. For the past two years, NWF has been working to reach an agreement on these three allotments as domestic sheep permitted on the allotments pose a significant risk of disease contact to wild bighorn sheep in both the South Beaverhead and the South Lehmhi Mountains. In addition, these allotments are within priority sage grouse habitat and are located within the “High Divide” wildlife corridor—critical habitat for expanding large carnivore populations that are pioneering East along this unique East-West wildlife pathway. This agreement is unique in that Cedar Point-Eightmile will be retired, while Crooked Creek and Mahogany Butte will be converted to cattle grazing, although at a significantly reduced amount to benefit wildlife.

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View of Retired Grazing Allotments
View of Retired Grazing Allotments

Following nearly two decades of success in the Northern Rockies eliminating conflicts between livestock and wildlife on 1.3 million acres public lands, in 2017 the National Wildlife Federation expanded its Adopt an Acre program to Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. Like in the Northern Rockies, over the last century populations of bighorn sheep populations in Colorado have dramatically declined to small remnants of their historic numbers due largely to a number of diseases that are transmitted from domestic sheep to their wild cousins. Once infected, bighorn herds can experience an all age die-off that wipe our 60-90% of the herd. Since bringing on a new employee to manage the Southern Rockies and Great Basin region, we have been laying the groundwork necessary to achieve our goals of retiring several hundred thousand acres of grazing allotments over the coming decade. Working with partners from a number of state wildlife agencies and partner organizations, we have identified the domestic sheep allotments that pose the greatest threats to bighorns developed a network of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management personnel that manage these allotments. Following this background work, we began reaching out to the ranchers that hold the permits for this high risk grazing allotments.

The first fruit of these labors is our April agreement with a multi-generation ranching family to retire their two domestic sheep allotment on the Rio Grande National Forest, high in the South San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. The Cornwall and Willow Mountain allotments cover approximately 9,000 acres and fall directly in the middle of the core range of a very high priority herd of bighorns. The total cost of this deal is $82,500 of which we have, raised $40,000. To complete our commitment to the ranching family, we have a goal of raising an additional $42,500. At approximately $9 per acre, we believe this is a very good value for permanently protecting one of Colorado’s highest priority bighorn herds. This is the first of what will be many thousands of acres of grazing allotment retirements in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah as step by step, we work to restore bighorn sheep to the Southern Rockies, the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin. As always, we are grateful to our supporters for investing in this innovative conservation solution, we could not do it without your help.

View of Retired Grazing Allotments
View of Retired Grazing Allotments

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National Wildlife Federation

Location: Reston, VA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Kit Fischer
Reston, VA United States
$376,662 raised of $450,000 goal
 
1,555 donations
$73,338 to go
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