FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 1, 2021
Melissa Cain, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 392-2886
Greg Dyson, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 730-9242
GUNNISON, Colo. — The Bureau of Land Management has released a proposed decision on a highly controversial project that threatens bighorn sheep populations throughout south-central Colorado, opting to reauthorize domestic sheep grazing in areas where they are likely to transmit a fatal form of pneumonia to native bighorn herds. The decision also allows sheep grazing within the habitat of Gunnison sage-grouse, a rare ground-nesting bird listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The Bureau’s decision authorizes private livestock owners to continue to lease 9 public lands grazing allotments in the Gunnison Basin for domestic sheep grazing for at least 10 years. The decision requires herders to avoid areas mapped by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as bighorn sheep summer habitat, but allows grazing just outside those boundaries. “The decision to allow livestock producers to bring domestic sheep into the range of bighorn sheep, when the BLM’s own analysis shows bighorn die-offs are the likely outcome, is indefensible,” said Melissa Cain, Bighorn Sheep Conservation Director for the non-profit Western Watersheds Project.
Domestic sheep are asymptomatic carriers of several pathogens that can be transmitted to wild bighorn sheep, including the bacterium Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, which causes fatal pneumonia that rapidly spreads through bighorn herds.
“Bighorn sheep in Colorado have been decimated by livestock-borne diseases for more than a century,” said Greg Dyson, WildEarth Guardians’ Bighorn Sheep Guardian. “It’s time for the federal agencies that manage bighorn sheep habitat on public lands to prioritize native species over the profits of a few livestock producers.”
Protests to the decision are due by Saturday, September 11, 2021. Protests may be submitted in person or in writing to the Authorized Officer: Elizabeth A. Dawson, District Manager, 2465 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, Colorado 81401. Project documents may be found at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/67519/570