October 17, 2008
October 17, 2008 - "I am directing the Forest Service (FS) to suspend participating in, or support of, efforts to transplant wild sheep onto National Forest System lands in areas where there is a likelihood that wild sheep might come into contact with domestic sheep," stated Mark Rey, under secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment, in a letter to USDA FS personnel.
Rey explains that the federal land management agencies are in the process of reviewing and updating management policies where domestic sheep graze in proximity to wild sheep, with the intention of developing a federal policy framework consistent with state wildlife objectives. Due to the presence of federal lands managed by various agencies within wild sheep ranges and the risk of disease transmission between domestic sheep and wild sheep, a consistent set of management policies for minimizing this risk is desirable.
Through these policies, the agencies seek to promote and protect the ecological integrity of wild sheep, as well as support the economic sustainability of sheep producers where these animals potentially commingle.
"This direction from Under Secretary Rey helps to eliminate the development of new cases of interaction between domestic sheep and wild sheep on FS land," stated Margaret Soulen Hinson, secretary/treasurer for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). "The sheep industry is working diligently with other organizations to find a solution that works for all involved."
Also this week, the agency shared preliminary numbers indicating that bighorn sheep habitat is roughly 66 million acres in the western United States. Of this land, 23 million acres are controlled by the FS, and of the FS land, perhaps 1 million acres overlap with domestic sheep allotments.
"The million acres is an overestimate in our opinion," stated Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "However, the figures do demonstrate that all the controversial legal wrangling between interests is over a tiny fraction of the bighorn habitat in the West. It ought to be encouraging to a resolution that is respectful of domestic sheep and the family ranch operations."