Endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep face culling

SACRAMENTO, California, June 10, 2005 (ENS): Conservation groups in California and across the country are concerned about a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to kill endangered bighorn sheep to keep them from coming into contact with domestic sheep. The proposed slaughter is intended to prevent transmission of disease to the bighorns.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Inyo, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, and other conservation groups have asked the Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to abandon the proposal to kill Sierra Nevada bighorns, which was published in the California Regulatory Notice Register of May 6, 2005.

"It is suspicious," the groups wrote in a June 6 letter to Vern Bleich of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), that the state and federal agencies did not try to inform the public about their plans "beyond this obscure publication," failing to inform even groups that have long supported California wildlife conservation.

"This deadly approach to ‘protecting’ bighorns from domestic sheep is unwise, contrary to common sense, immoral, and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act," the groups wrote. "A better, more ethical approach would be to remove domestic sheep from bighorn habitat."

"Removing the domestic sheep conflict would protect the bighorns and public-interest for wildlife conservation. Sheepmen do not have a ‘right’ to graze public lands, they have a permitted privilege, subject to end or modification at any time due to other needs, such as conservation and recovery of endangered wildlife like Sierra Nevada bighorns," wrote the conservation groups.

These conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999 to list Sierra Nevada bighorns as endangered, and five years ago they were listed; the state of California listed them six years ago.

Since the sheep were listed on both state and federal levels bighorn numbers have increased, the groups pointed out.

But the CDFG bighorn monitoring program has documented the increase in numbers of these animals and also the fact that they have moved onto National Forest public lands that are grazed by private domestic sheep, the groups wrote.

The Forest Service has closed two allotments to domestic sheep grazing, but the agency has done no more. The groups write that, "The Forest Service has a duty under the Endangered Species Act to protect the bighorn by closing these public land grazing allotments. Killing wild sheep amounts to rewarding that agency for ignoring its mandatory responsibilities."

"Sierra Nevada bighorn are California’s sheep," the groups coaxed. "The state has already been killing our wild mountain lions to ‘save’ bighorns. Killing both wild lions and wild bighorns will turn this popular program into a controversial one and rob CDFG of the good will it has earned for itself."

The groups have sent copies of their letter to both U.S. senators, to the U.S. Forest Service Chief, and to the CDFG director asking for a detailed response by June 16.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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