29 Jan 2010, 9:26pm
Wildlife Agencies bighorn sheep
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Environmental Justice on the Payette NF

The Payette National Forest has modified a plan to exclude domestic sheep on the basis that they transmit diseases, specifically pneumonia, to wild bighorn sheep. They base that contention on speculative computer models, not empirical evidence.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Payette NF, January 25, 2010 [here]

Update to Bighorn Sheep Viability Study Released Today

Today the Payette National Forest (PNF) released updated information pertaining to the analysis in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) to supplement the 2003 Southwest Idaho Ecogroup Land and Resource Management Plan FEIS (Forest Plan) as it relates to bighorn sheep viability on the Payette National Forest. The DSEIS was released in October 2008. This supplemental report to the DSEIS contains the following updates:

* Since the release of the DSEIS the PNF has worked with population and disease modeling experts from the University of California at Davis to develop models based on telemetry data from bighorn sheep populations that utilize habitat on or adjacent to the PNF.

* In September 2009, the Regional Forester determined that bighorn sheep merited designation as a Sensitive Species in Region 4 because of population declines from disease. This document will update and analyze the alternatives in light of the new designation.

* The Economic Impact Analysis has been changed to include both community level and regional level impact models in response to public comment on the DSEIS.

* A section on Environmental Justice has been added to the Economic Analysis. Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, education level, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws. Environmental Justice seeks to ensure that minority and low income communities have access to public information relating to human health and environmental planning, regulations, and enforcement.

The updated information includes a revised source habitat model and core herd home range analysis, a new contact analysis, and a disease model. To better address the issue of bighorn sheep viability, several additional alternative management approaches were developed and analyzed in the DSEIS. However, the new models and updated analyses led to the development of five new alternative approaches which are described, displayed and analyzed in the Updated Information Report. …

The Idaho Statesman reports:

Idaho Statesman, 01/28/10 [here]

LEWISTON, Idaho — The Payette National Forest has released a set of proposed updates to its plan to keep domestic sheep from intermingling with wild bighorns, a species susceptible to pneumonia that can be passed along by their domestic cousins.

Forest officials are taking public comment on the 184-page document that spells out five new alternatives to keep the herds segregated. It also includes the latest scientific analysis on the health risks wild bighorns face in sharing habitat with domestics.

Forest managers have been working to update the plan since 2005 when the chief of the U.S. Forest Service declared that the previous plan failed to adequately protect wild sheep in north-central Idaho.

The draft, citing field observations and scientific research, finds bighorn sheep have a high probability of contracting fatal pneumonia after contact with domestic sheep. …

Many wildlife scientists are convinced contact between domestic sheep and bighorns reintroduced into the region in the 1970s is behind deadly disease outbreaks. Disease transmission concerns figured prominently in an Oct. 14 federal court ruling that banished a rancher from his family’s historic grazing ground along the Salmon River. …

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11 Aug 2009, 10:33am
Cougars Wildlife Agencies bighorn sheep
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Mountain Lions Extirpating Bighorn Sheep in AZ

Critical bighorn sheep population continues to struggle

Press Release, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Aug. 5, 2009 [here]

Feds seek comment on draft EA; proposed action will allow needed management

PHOENIX - They are as much an icon of the Southwest as Wyatt Earp, yet the desert bighorn sheep, known for their head-to-head crashing battles and ability to defy gravity by clinging to rocky cliffs, have experienced staggering population declines on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

Continued monitoring of the public’s bighorn sheep population on the Kofa NWR has state and federal wildlife agencies concerned for the future of this historic herd, whose population crashed from an estimated high of 812 animals in 2000 to a record low of less than 400 in just six years.

Why is this population of sheep so important?

“A driving force behind the original establishment of the Refuge was the protection of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana), and significant management emphasis remains on maintaining the bighorn sheep population,” as stated in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service letter dated Aug. 4, 2009, in reference to the 1939 Executive Order (#8039) that established the Kofa.

The Kofa NWR sheep population has played a critical role in reversing the decline of desert bighorn sheep for more than 50 years. The herd is a historic source population for re-establishing, supplementing, or expanding other sheep populations across the Southwest, in many cases bringing back this incredible species to places where they were extirpated.

“A wide range of outdoor enthusiasts-wildlife watchers, hikers, hunters, photographers, tourists-are able to enjoy the desert bighorn sheep in many parts of the state and the Southwest,” said Pat Barber, the Yuma regional supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Those experiences are made possible by 50 plus years of collaborative translocation efforts by wildlife agencies, landowners and hunter/conservation organizations.”

Some of the more popular destinations that have received sheep from the Kofa herd in the past are the Superstition Mountains, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, the Galiuro Mountains, and the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. There are a number of areas in Arizona that are slated to receive bighorn sheep translocations, including the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, the Mineral Mountains, Big Horn Mountains, Buckeye Hills, and others.

Unfortunately, translocations using sheep from the Kofa were discontinued in 2005. Translocations using animals from the Kofa herd will not resume until the population approaches the long-term population level of 600-800 sheep. The department’s sheep translocation efforts from other source populations continue, but at a reduced rate without the once highly productive Kofa herd as a source.

“A key factor to the herd’s future is managing for the best success in reproduction. Desert bighorn sheep have low birth and survival rates, and any additive mortality to females and their lambs quickly affects the herd’s ability to increase,” said John Hervert, Wildlife Program Manager.

What’s the urgency?

Although managers are working to address several issues that might limit sheep recovery, such as water availability, disease and human disturbance, predation is a growing concern.

Past surveys indicated that, historically, mountain lions were virtually non-existent or only transient guests around the Kofa region. However, in recent years, a number of lions have become frequent users on and around the Kofa, which is having a greater predation effect on the bighorn sheep population during a time when they are already struggling.

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