New Action to Protect Colorado Bighorn Sheep
1st of Jun 2020
Advocates for the West recently filed our opening brief in a case to protect four herds of bighorn sheep that occupy habitat in close proximity to the Wishbone allotment in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest. The Forest Service knew that grazing domestic sheep within the allotment threatened to infect these bighorn herds with deadly pathogens, yet still authorized grazing in the area.
Domestic sheep carry a pathogen that causes pneumonia in bighorns and reduces lamb survival rates for years. Sheep are naturally gregarious animals, so domestic and bighorn sheep can easily come in contact, and once the disease is introduced to a bighorn herd, members can transmit it to nearby herds. Disease transmitted from domestic sheep often leads to large die-offs within bighorn populations.
Bighorn sheep were wiped out during the era of Western settlement, as Old World pathogens carried by domestic sheep were transmitted to native bighorn sheep. By the early 1900s, bighorns had vanished from several states, with only a few thousand remaining from an estimated historic population of 1.5 to 2 million. Following more than six decades of extensive and costly restoration efforts, bighorn sheep have now been recovered to approximately 5% of their historic population levels and exist on roughly 10% of their historic range.
Advocates for the West has worked for years to reduce the threats to bighorn sheep from grazing domestic sheep on federal lands in Idaho and has successfully eliminated grazing in most high risk areas. Now we are trying to reduce similar threats in Colorado, where numerous domestic sheep allotments pose a high risk to bighorn populations.