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
NWF's WCR team on a site visit in southern Utah
NWF's WCR team on a site visit in southern Utah

Thanks to your steadfast support, the National Wildlife Federation has retired an incredible 1.5 million acres of grazing over the past 18 years. While 2020 wasn’t the year any of us anticipated, we secured significant wins for wildlife through retiring grazing allotments as part of our Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program. We are excited to share the highlights of our work over the past year. In 2020 NWF's Adopt a Wildlife Acre Program:

• Partnered closely with the Taos Pueblo tribe to retire the Santos domestic sheep allotment, adjacent to the Rio Grande Gorge, which has been identified as an extremely important wildlife corridor for multiple species and home to one of the largest herds of bighorn sheep in North America. Removing domestic sheep will prevent the transmission of disease to these wild sheep.

• Remained in active discussion with a permittee of two high priority domestic sheep allotments in the Centennial Mountains, a critical east-west expansion area for grizzlies.

• Continued efforts to retire the final cattle grazing allotment in Capitol Reef National Park. While the permittee is willing to move, alternate grazing has been challenging to uncover.

• Retired the Endlich Mesa domestic sheep allotment in the San Juan Forest near Durango to protect bighorn sheep from disease transmission as well as protecting sensitive riparian areas. Check out this short video of the area when sheep were grazing last year at nearly 13,000 feet.

 Started negotiation on two high conflict domestic sheep allotments in northwest Colorado. When completed, the two allotments will protect 10,000 acres of desert bighorn sheep habitat.

• Continued to negotiate several allotment retirements in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These include: West Fork of the Madison allotment which has a high number of grizzly bear-livestock conflicts, a cattle allotment South of Big Timber, MT, two domestic sheep allotments in the Wyoming Range south of Jackson, and several cattle allotments West of Cody, WY.

• Launched an effort to retire grazing allotments on tribal lands in order to open up space for the reintroduction of wild bison.

Additionally, with the passage of the wolf reintroduction ballot initiative in Colorado, we believe our grazing retirement work could play a critical role for wolf tolerance in areas where grazing is already a marginal business practice.

Our grazing allotment retirement program has proven to be a cornerstone of wildlife conservation initiatives in the West and we are excited for the future. As we expand the scale and geographies of this work, our main challenge is the time spent raising funds for each allotment before we can move onto the next project, thereby slowing our progress. We plan to embark on a comprehensive fundraising campaign in the coming years to address this challenge.
Looking ahead, our goals include:

• Retire an average of 100,000 acres each year. The map attachment illustrates the areas protected thus far, and the high priority allotments we have identified.

• Elevate opportunities to include retirement language in Forest Service Planning Revisions and more importantly in land protection designations, such as wilderness areas or National Monuments to change the status quo for grazing decisions and provide more flexibility to reduce grazing pressure in sensitive areas.

• Team up with our Tribal Lands Program to develop opportunities to retire grazing on Bureau of Indian Affairs land on the Wind River Reservation.

These accomplishments are yours as well and we hope you are proud of the significant and positive impacts we are having on conservation in the west. Thank you for your support and for your confidence in the work we do!


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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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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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National Wildlife Federation

Location: Reston, VA - USA
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Project Leader:
Kit Fischer
Reston, VA United States
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