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Groups say livestock grazing creates deadly zone outside Yellowstone National Park
John Meyer, WildEarth Guardians: (406) 587-5800
Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project: (208) 788-2290
Bozeman, MT – Conservationists are challenging the United States Forest Service’s failure to protect bighorn sheep and grizzly bears in Montana outside of Yellowstone National Park. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest authorized approximately 8,000 domestic sheep to graze in the heart of a mountainous corridor that links the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The Gallatin Wildlife Association, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation are in federal court to contest the Revised Forest Plan as well as seven grazing allotments for domestic sheep.
“The sheep are located in historic bighorn habitat and can transmit deadly respiratory diseases to the bighorns,” said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Director for WildEarth Guardians. “There are ten bighorn sheep herds on or near the Forest and the Forest Plan is failing to maintain their viability.”
In 2013, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks attempted to trap a grizzly bear after it killed domestic sheep in one of the allotments. A few weeks later, a sheepherder killed another grizzly bear after it repeatedly depredated on domestic sheep.
“The Gravelly Mountains are an important corridor connecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears to the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watershed Project. “Connecting the two populations is key for the genetic health of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears.”
The groups allege the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to prepare supplemental NEPA analysis for the Allotment Management Plans after learning about the conflicts. The seven domestic sheep allotments being challenged include Black Butte, Cottonwood, Posion Basin, Lyon Wolverine, Hellroaring, Coal Creek, and Barnett.
“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem contains
the greatest concentration of large mammals in the lower forty-eight states, “
said Bird. “Elk, bison, bighorn sheep, lynx, wolves, wolverines, and grizzly
bears are all found here.”
In 1900, there were an estimated 100,000 bighorn sheep in Montana. Today, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates that fewer than 6,000 remain. Disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep is largely responsible for the loss of wild bighorn sheep in Montana. An MOU authorizes the domestic sheep producers to kill any bighorn sheep that comes within one-quarter mile of the domestic sheep.
Once over 50,000 strong in the lower forty-eight states, grizzlies were reduced to less than 1,000 bears by 1975. In a historical blink of an eye, from the 1800s to the early 1900s, humans reduced the range of grizzly bears to less than 2 percent of its former range south of Canada, limiting the bear to a few isolated populations in mountainous regions, wilderness areas, and national parks in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, approximately 600 bears remain in isolated habitat.
“The establishment and protection of corridors and linkage habitat between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem is essential for the long-term genetic viability of Yellowstone Grizzly bears,” said Bird. “The Forest Service has authorized domestic sheep to graze in the heart of this important corridor.”
The region from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon is widely recognized as a vital stronghold for the world’s remaining wildlands and biodiversity, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a significant component of this region.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem encompasses millions of acres across southwest Montana, eastern Idaho, and northwest Wyoming, including two national parks, seven national forests, a dozen wilderness areas, and the headwaters of several of the United States best known rivers. Over seventy-five percent of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem consists of federal, public lands.
As grizzly bears have begun to move out of Yellowstone National Park and into the Gravelly Range, conflicts with domestic sheep have occurred. Sheepherders have killed grizzly bears on the allotments after they depredated on domestic sheep. The lawsuit contests domestic sheep grazing because of the grave threat to native bighorn sheep and grizzly bears in the important corridor.