May 8, 2009
"We are taking a look at the locations where bighorn sheep and domestic sheep are coexisting in an effort to gather information that would reduce strict separation guidelines," said officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (FS) agency to more than a dozen western sheep producers during a meeting last week.
Anne Zimmerman, acting associate deputy for FS, mentioned that "a more critical issue to the survival of the bighorn sheep than domestic sheep interaction is land fragmentation due to oil and gas operations. Wildlife corridors and open space is at risk because of the control these permittees have over private lands adjacent to the FS allotments."
Sheep producers reiterated their request to not develop Best Management Practices (BMP) at the national level since that sets standards that would likely limit the opportunity for landowners and permittees to develop site-specific plans. The FS recognized the need for the BMP's to be site specific and also recognized that BMP's need to be more comprehensive than just separation strategies. Other factors influencing bighorn populations such as herd health and environmental stressors must also being considered.
Attendees at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) meeting were told that BLM is currently going through its 10-year permit renewal process. BLM manages 18,000 multiple-use permits.
The management of the over population of wild horses on BLM land is a priority for the agency. There are an estimated 36,000 wild horses on BLM lands that have been assessed with a range capacity of 27,000. As a result, thousands of acres of public lands are being decimated.
Guard dog conflicts on public lands were address with officials at both the FS and the BLM. Livestock grazing is one of the multiple-use activities common on public lands. The agencies agreed to work with the sheep industry by reviewing current policy and assisting in providing educational materials to land users.