Wildlife: Reintroduction of Bighorn Sheep

Wildlife: Reintroduction of Bighorn Sheep

ISSUE

Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is looking to introduce or reintroduce Desert Bighorn Sheep into historical mountain ranges throughout Utah.  DWR has identified Mineral Mountain, located in Beaver and Millard counties (west of Beaver and east of Milford), as both a historical mountain range for bighorn sheep and as a place for reintroduction.  The proposal calls for an initial reintroduction of 40 bighorn sheep the fall of 2018 and, in time, increase that number to 175 for purposes of viewing and increased hunting opportunities.  Transplanted bighorn sheep will likely come from existing herds from both the Zion (Utah) and Muddy Mountains (Nevada) hunting units, pending availability. 

BACKGROUND

The Mineral Mountain range provides 100,000 acres of suitable habitat for bighorn sheep.  Many of these acres are currently grazed by cattle and many more surrounding, flatland acres are currently grazed by domestic sheep.  Utah Farm Bureau is concerned with the proposed reintroduction for several reasons, included: competition for forage, disease transmission, water availability, increased predators and increased limited options to again graze domestic sheep on Mineral Mountain. 

DWR biologists state potential conflicts between bighorn sheep and livestock is minimized because bighorn sheep prefer mountain, scape terrain that is 30% or more slopes and different forages.  DWR also reports bighorn sheep don’t drink a lot of water compared to other animals. 

During a year of negotiations with various stakeholders, a draft management plan attempted to mitigate livestock interest concerns.  DWR is on record as repeatedly stating they will proactively work towards the following to help ensure both bighorn and domestic sheep herds maintain sustainable habitat and maintain separation:  install many bighorn sheep with GPS collars for purposes of tracking their movements and locations, remove or kill bighorn sheep that come on to domestic sheep private lands or allotments, install necessary fences to keep both bighorn and domestic sheep separate and help install wells and water guzzlers to ensure sufficient water for both species.   

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) does not require DWR to complete an analysis or obtain approval before the reintroduction of bighorn sheep.  NEPA is a federal law that applies to federal agencies when they’re making significant changes to the management of federal lands.  Under current state law, Utah has the authority to manage wildlife on federal lands.  Federal agencies often work with DWR, but they don’t have oversight on wildlife.  On the other hand, federal agencies do have oversight on livestock when grazing on federal lands.  Any decision made regarding livestock AUM’s or grazing permits is going to have to comply with NEPA. 

On May 31, 2018, the DWR Board took action to approve the Mineral Mountain Bighorn Sheep Management Plan, which includes the reintroduction of bighorn sheep this fall.  Utah Farm Bureau stressed the importance of completing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DWR, BLM and the affected permittees and landowners.  Though DWR was supportive of establishing an MOU, they were not willing to potentially delay reintroduction until after an MOU was in place.   

UTAH FARM BUREAU POLICY

Utah Farm Bureau supports promoting consistency and the application of multiple-use and sustained yield principles in managing and maintaining Utah’s wildlife ecosystem.  Utah Farm Bureau also supports cooperative agreements between landowners, permittees, the DWR, federal, state and local agencies and sportsmen when establishing and maintaining wildlife population objective numbers.  Utah Farm Bureau opposes transplanting wildlife species into areas where an historical presence cannot be shown and without adequate landowner and permittee input. 

For more information, contact Sterling Brown, Vice President – Public Policy at sterling.brown@fbfs.com.