Where conflicts between livestock and wildlife are prolonged and intractable, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) believes that public land grazing retirements can provide an equitable solution for ranchers and wildlife interests. In coordination with federal land managers, the NWF negotiates with livestock producers to retire livestock grazing allotments that experience chronic conflict with wildlife. In Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming this project focuses on efforts to reduce the risk of disease contact between domestic and wild sheep. This market approach recognizes the economic value of livestock grazing permits and fairly compensates producers for retiring their leases. This approach establishes an important new western model for resolving conflicts between livestock and wildlife on public lands.Most recently, NWF completed the retirement of three grazing allotments in eastern Idaho, which eliminates the risk of disease transmission between domestic and wild sheep. The Crooked Creek, Mahogany Butte, and Cedar Point-Eightmile domestic sheep allotments are vast and consist of 140,000 acres of prime sagebrush habitat in the South Beaverheads and South Lemhi ranges. For the past two years, NWF has been working to reach an agreement on these three allotments, as domestic sheep permitted on the allotments pose a significant risk of disease contact to wild bighorn sheep, in both the South Beaverhead and the South Lehmhi Mountains. The Lemhi herd has expanded significantly and Idaho Fish and Game issued the first tags for bighorns in this range in over a decade. Unfortunately, the South Beaverhead herd in no stranger to disease events and the population has struggled to rebound from disease-related die-offs. Recent counts suggest the population is around 50 individuals. However, with the risk of disease eliminated, we should see this population slowly recover.
This agreement is unique in that the Cedar Point-Eightmile allotment will be retired, while the Crooked Creek and Mahogany Butte allotments will be converted to cattle grazing. The agreement recognizes the value of family ranches on the landscape and compensates them fairly for the cost of converting their operation.
For over a decade NWF has worked with willing livestock permittees to retire strategic grazing allotments in the northern Rockies, protecting key bighorn populations from disease. To date, we’ve retired over 1.5 million acres of conflict grazing areas in the West, partnering with the Wild Sheep Foundation, their state chapters and affiliates, and various sportsman’s organizations. We’re just beginning to see the realization of our investment, as bighorn herds slowly recover and pioneer new habitat.
First Lite Team Member Kit Fischer leads the National Wildlife Federation Northern Rockies Wildlife Conflict Resolution program. You can learn more about his work on NWF's WCR site. Photos by Kit Fischer and Ryan Callaghan.