Monday, March 09, 2009

Battle Of The Bighorn: Sheep Ranchers Lose

A battle on the steep slopes of the Snake and Salmon river canyons that pits one of Idaho's most iconic wild animals against one of the state's historic industries is inching toward a conclusion. Managers of the Payette National Forest are faced with what looks like a stark choice between preserving majestic bighorn sheep or reducing and maybe even eliminating grazing by domestic sheep on much of the forest. Years of deliberation, research and political maneuvering appear to be tilting in favor of the wild sheep and at the expense of a handful of ranching families with decades-long ties to the land. The complex issue boils down to a simple reality in the eyes of wild sheep advocates and game and land managers. When wild bighorns and their domestic cousins mix, the bighorns die from pneumonia. Scientists don't know all the hows or whys. But game and land managers say the science is clear enough for them to proclaim the two species should be kept apart. "When you put domestics and bighorns together, the bighorns die. We don't need to know any more than that. It is clear we have to have separation," said Keith Lawrence, director of the Nez Perce Tribe's wildlife department. To that end, managers on the Payette National Forest are working on a plan that attempts to keep domestic sheep from commingling with bighorns. The preferred alternative of the plan draft would reduce sheep grazing on the forest by about 60 percent. Other alternatives call for steeper cuts and some allow more liberal grazing. Many environmental groups and bighorn advocates favor an alternative that ends sheep grazing or one that reduces grazing even more. The ranchers say if the preferred alternative is selected, it will spell doom for their livelihoods...Salt Lake Tribune

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