Adopt A Wildlife Acre

by National Wildlife Federation
Centennial Mountains of Idaho and Montana
Centennial Mountains of Idaho and Montana

The National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program (Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre) has continued to make excellent progress in reducing livestock / wildlife conflicts in the northern Rockies.  In August, the National Wildlife Federation finalized a grazing agreement on the Limestone Irving / Middle Creek domestic sheep grazing allotments in the Centennial Mountains, straddling the high divide of the Montana / Idaho border, west of Yellowstone National Park totaling 82,000 acres.

Since the Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre program was founded in 2002, the National Wildlife Federation has resolved conflicts on over 1 million acres for wildlife in the west!

This Limestone Irving / Middle Creek retirement, with seven allotments in total, is one of the largest and most important retirements NWF has negotiated on the High Divide, a critical East to West wildlife corridor between Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park. Domestic sheep allotments in the area have faced chronic conflicts with both large carnivores and bighorn sheep.

The domestic sheep allotments retired are adjacent to occupied bighorn sheep habitat in Montana’s Tendoy Mountains. We focused our efforts in this region because the bighorn herd in the Tendoys has dwindled in recent years due to disease transmission that likely occurred from co-mingling between the two species.  Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be culling the existing herd in the Tendoys this fall and plans to reintroduce clean bighorn sheep to the region in the coming year.  Due to this critical retirement, bighorn sheep will have a fighting chance for a comeback in the Tendoy Mountains and their range and populations will be allowed to expand south to the Lima Peaks area and over the Idaho border.  

Tendoy Mountains - Occupied Bighorn Sheep Habitat
Tendoy Mountains - Occupied Bighorn Sheep Habitat
A bighorn ram courting a ewe in southwest Montana
A bighorn ram courting a ewe in southwest Montana
NWF is solving conflicts for Yellowstone Grizzlies
NWF is solving conflicts for Yellowstone Grizzlies

We believe livestock grazing retirements can be a powerful tool for restructuring where grazing occurs on public lands. Most significantly, we have been able to accomplish noteworthy changes in the Yellowstone ecosystem with minimal controversy.  We believe that’s because we recognize that grazing leases have economic value and pay accordingly.  We think our project provides an important model that could be duplicated for other species.  To date we have done grazing retirements to resolve conflicts involving grizzly bears, wolves, bison and bighorn sheep. 

This past year set a new high-water mark for NWF retirements.   We successfully retired five grazing allotments, providing significant conflict-free habitat for bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, wolves and sage grouse. These retirements will permanently end conflicts between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep (disease transmission occurs that often decimates entire populations) over a significant area of southeastern Idaho. 

We believe grazing retirements could significantly boost conservation efforts for sage grouse and anadromous fish. NWF is actively involved with negotiations involving two grazing allotments in central Idaho where livestock have trampled the redds of endangered chinook salmon. Several of our recent bighorn sheep retirements are equally important for sage grouse. 

The outlook for maintaining this success is positive. The bighorn sheep risk analysis that the Forest Service is undertaking continues to move slowly forward, and NWF’s Adopt-A-Wildlife acre program has proven itself as the primary means of changing existing land use patterns without major controversy. NWF remains in contact with five permittees in Idaho and Wyoming with whom we have a solid outlook for developing grazing retirement agreements in 2016.

Most recently, we followed up our initial Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) retirement with a second one in late spring of 2015: the 59,000-acre Deadman domestic sheep allotment, also in the Upper Snake River area of southern Idaho. The cost was $66,000.  We are also pleased that our recent retirements have been secured for an affordable price. The majority of our retirements have cost less than $3 per acre.The ability to provide substantial conservation at a low cost has allowed NWF to have a significant impact solving livestock / wildlife conflicts on large landscapes in the Rocky Mountain West.

Bighorn sheep are between a rock and a hard place
Bighorn sheep are between a rock and a hard place
The Upper Gros Ventre Retirement N. of Jackson, WY
The Upper Gros Ventre Retirement N. of Jackson, WY
Native plants regenerate quickly without livestock
Native plants regenerate quickly without livestock


A "full curl" bighorn ram
A "full curl" bighorn ram

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 Howe Peak area of southern Idaho
The Howe Peak area of southern Idaho
A bighorn lamb and ewe
A bighorn lamb and ewe


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:


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.”


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Organization Information

National Wildlife Federation

Location: Reston, VA - USA
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Kit Fischer
Reston, VA United States
2016 Year End Campaign
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