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Wild Sheep Restoration Survives the Farm Bill

December 13, 2018

Bozeman, MT. December 13, 2018.The Wild Sheep Foundation’s (WSF) purpose is to, “Put and Keep Wild Sheep on the Mountain.” One of the largest hurdles in fulfilling that purpose is potential for disease transmission between domestic sheep and goats and wild sheep. Domestic sheep carry bacteria called Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae that, when contracted by wild sheep, can cause pneumonia leading to an all-age die-off and complete eradication of that wild sheep herd.  

The best and most common-sense approach to mitigating potential disease transfer, is to keep wild sheep and domestic sheep apart on the landscape. In some places, this happens naturally, with wild sheep habitat nearly inhospitable to domestic sheep, or potentially the rancher that tends them. However, in places such as Wyoming, wild sheep and domestic sheep occupied much of the same range on public lands; essentially creating a time-bomb for a catastrophic all-age die-off. Thankfully, the area had several domestic sheep producers that were willing to work with WSF, Wyoming WSF, other chapters and affiliates, and numerous other wild sheep advocates' and sportsmen’s organizations to find multiple-use solutions that allowed for continued restoration of wild sheep, as well as promote the livelihoods and interests of domestic sheep production. Some landowners changed to different livestock types, others agreed to have their public land grazing allotments bought out and their domestic sheep moved to a conflict-free grazing allotment, and a few simply took cash to buy private land away from wild sheep range that would support their domestic sheep herd all year long. Needless to say, the plan worked well, and all parties were satisfied. 

Earlier this year, Rep Liz Cheney (WY-R) looked to derail the previous conservation work in Wyoming and throughout the western USA by attaching a misguided amendment, the “Cheney Amendment,” to the Farm Bill which would have replaced local collaboration with top-down federal intervention. Essentially, the amendment would have forced the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to utilize the previously vacated allotments without assessing the risk to wild sheep. 

With wild sheep conservation on the line, not to mention millions of dollars in private citizens’ and business’ dollars previously donated to buy-out the allotments in the first place, WSF, its chapters and affiliates, and numerous other wild sheep advocates' and sportsmen’s organizations went to work with a mission to stop the amendment. Meetings were immediately scheduled on the Hill asking for congressional support to stop the amendment, while local Wyoming residents theoretically stormed the castle, tactically calling Rep Liz Cheney staff to demonstrate their displeasure with her recent policy decisions. Hunters and wild sheep advocates felt this amendment not only undermined previous collaboration between wild sheep and domestic sheep interests, but also posed a risk to a viable hunting resource with no regard for sportsmen’s interests.  

Due to collaborative efforts, WSF, its chapters and affiliates, and numerous other wild sheep advocates' and sportsmen’s organizations were proud to learn that the “Cheney Amendment” has now been officially struck from the Farm Bill in conference.

Gray N. Thornton, President and CEO of WSF responded, “This is just another example of incredible collaboration within the outdoor community. Wyoming has stood as a prime example of what can be accomplished when both wild sheep and domestic sheep interests come to the table with a priority to find multiple-use solutions. The misguided Cheney Amendment threatened to undo two decades of collaborative wild sheep restoration and conservation not only in Wyoming, but throughout wild sheep range. We are glad to get yet another win on behalf of wild sheep, sportsmen, and anyone else who enjoys this iconic species.”

Congressional direction still requires wildlife agencies to, “identify all allotments that are suitable for sheep grazing” and relocate “domestic sheep to allotments with a low risk” of passing pneumonia to bighorns and other wild sheep. WSF believes that with this continued congressional support, and the recent efforts throughout the entire outdoor community to prevent the “Cheney Amendment,” conservation endeavors will continue to grow rapidly, leading to full recovery and sustainability of wild sheep across North America. 

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