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For Immediate Release: Apr 15, 2009
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

DEADLY DOMESTIC SHEEP DISEASE THREATENS ENDANGERED SIERRA NEVADA BIGHORN

Feds Threatened With Legal Action to Close Grazing Allotments, Remedy Endangered Species Act Violations


Contact: Justin Augustine, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 302 or (503) 910-9214 (cell); Karen Schambach, PEER (530)333-2545

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today notified the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management of their intent to file a lawsuit against the agencies for failure to adequately protect endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep from potentially deadly disease transmission. High-risk domestic sheep allotments must be closed in order to adequately protect Sierra Nevada bighorns from disease transmission that can occur when they come into contact with domestic sheep.

“The agencies must act now to address this significant threat to the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn,” said Justin Augustine, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The scientific studies conducted over the last 20 years, especially the recent Recovery Plan and associated Risk Assessment, confirm what history has already shown: that domestic sheep grazing is incompatible with long-term survival and recovery of bighorn sheep.”

“These animals, more than any other, represent the beauty and ruggedness, but also the fragility, of the Sierra Nevada. The government’s action or inaction to ensure their survival is an indicator of the future of the Sierra,” said Karen Schambach, California director of PEER.

Six domestic sheep grazing allotments in Mono County were identified in the Recovery Plan as creating the greatest risk of disease transmission and were recommended for closure. The 60-day notice takes the agencies to task for failing to close these allotments this year, before the 2009 grazing season begins, and for failing to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The agencies have also failed to analyze the long-term impacts of domestic sheep grazing on the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn or to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on other management actions affecting the species.

The endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is one of the most iconic species of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The sheep inhabit steep eastern slopes and high alpine meadows in the central Sierra Nevada, from north of Yosemite National Park to south of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Sierra Nevada bighorn are usually found above 5,500 feet in elevation and can range up to 14,000 feet among the highest peaks. The northernmost herd of bighorn, found in Mono County and affected by these allotments, inhabit parts of Yosemite National Park and surrounding public lands to the east.

Over the past 20 years, the state of California, National Park Service, and conservation groups have dedicated substantial resources to bring Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep back from the brink of extinction. However, bighorn numbers continued to decline until its emergency listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. At that time, there were as few as 125 adult bighorn in the Sierra Nevada; today there are more than 300. While the Sierra Nevada bighorn population is slowly expanding, its numbers remain precariously low, particularly in the northern part of its range. This is due to the herd’s aversion to wintering in areas below 7,000 feet to avoid predation, noise and other disturbances. As the northern herd has repopulated north and east of Yosemite National Park, they’ve moved into the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest where domestic sheep grazing threatens the transmission of fatal disease.

The conservation groups seek to have the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management comply with the Endangered Species Act and the Recovery Plan to reduce the risks to bighorn from domestic sheep grazing that may threaten the species’ survival and recovery. The notice of intent gives the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management 60 days to correct the alleged violations before the Center may pursue legal action.

More information is available from the Center for Biological Diversity.