WGFD asks landowners for input to reintroduce Bighorn sheep
Jeffrey City – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has had requests and questions over the past two years about reintroducing Bighorn sheep into the Sweetwater Rocks, Ferris Mountain and Bennett Mountain areas.
Over the last four months, they have been in contact with several landowners and other interested individuals and groups, such as the Bighorn Sheep Working Group and the Statewide Bighorn Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group, regarding the Bighorn sheep reintroduction.
“There’s absolutely no proposal at this time. We just want to gather information,” stated Jason Hunter, Lander regional wildlife supervisor during an information-gathering meeting on May 7. “We’ll only develop a proposal with the help of all affected landowners, livestock producers, land use agencies and any other stakeholders.”
“We are going out to visit with people to see how much interest there is to reintroduce Bighorn sheep,” continued Hunter. “If there’s an interest, we will move forward. If there is not any interest, we will not.”
“If a formal proposal is developed, it’s going to be the people’s. We’ll put pen to paper,” explained Daryl Lutz, Lander region wildlife management coordinator.
He added, “However, the proposal will have to go through public review, wildlife division review in Cheyenne, WGFD review at the commission level, the Governor’s level and the Statewide Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group for the Bighorn sheep before we ever see anything happen on the ground.”
“We haven’t even really discussed if we will be going forward with the proposal, even though the majority of the folks at our meetings have supported it,” stated Hunter.
He continued, “Several things need to be addressed before we can go down that road. One of those things is working with the BLM and the landowners to try and look at what we can talk about for grazing and water development – maybe even prior to a proposal.”
He noted that they want to document any opportunities folks may have, as well as concerns that the WGFD will need to address, before moving forward with making a proposal.
“We just didn’t feel it was right to develop a proposal without any input,” commented Hunter. “We want input from the public to help us develop a proposal, if a proposal is to be made.”
He added, “If we can’t come up with a proposal that everyone can agree with, then we’ll just walk away and forget about it.”
At the meeting in Jeffrey City, one of the attendee’s concerns about the Bighorn sheep reintroduction included the concern that a special land management designation would be made for the occupied areas of Bighorn sheep.
The concerns continued with the impacts that would be felt by ranchers with domestic herds and farm flocks in those same areas and how it would affect their grazing permits on federal lands. The potential for restriction of land use during the lambing season of the Bighorn sheep was also a voiced concern
Another concern addressed at the meeting was Bighorn sheep movement to irrigated fields and private lands, instead of remaining in the rocks.
The risk of disease transmission impacts to and from Bighorn sheep to domestic sheep was also addressed at the meeting, as well as poaching concerns of the Bighorn sheep.
Attendees also wanted to know if continual input from ranchers and producers would be solicited during the whole process of managing the Bighorn sheep and their reintroduction process.
Other big concerns of attendees at the meeting were if the Bighorn sheep take precedence over livestock in the future and how would the Bighorn sheep numbers be monitored when several animals are already competing for the limited forage resources.
Attendees also noted the concern of increased traffic to private lands to monitor, observe and hunt the Bighorn sheep, as well as the impacts to producers trailing their domestic sheep through the rocks.
Opportunities mentioned at the meeting for the reintroduction of the Bighorn sheep were the hunting and viewing opportunities of the animals, along with increased predator management for the Bighorn sheep.
Also, if a water development project was to be developed in the area of the Bighorn sheep, it could benefit multiple animals in the area.
Another potential benefit mentioned of reintroducing the Bighorn sheep was the reduction of non-native invasive plants growing in the rocks that they may eat.
The Bighorn sheep WGFD mentioned that would be used for the reintroductions to the Sweetwater Rocks, Ferris Mountain and Bennett Mountain areas are of the same species as the native Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep.
“These sheep prefer low elevations and are more of a non-migratory sheep,” said Hunter. “They were released into the Devil’s Canyon area in 2004 and in the Seminoe Mountains in 2010. Both of these herds seem to be doing quite well.”
The reintroduced sheep could come from Oregon or the Devil’s Canyon area in Wyoming, similar to past efforts in the Seminoe area, but other states may have sheep available, as well. This would be looked at further if a proposal is developed.
Because these Bighorn sheep are the same species of Bighorns currently in Wyoming, there is no risk of these reintroduced Bighorn sheep being listed under the Endangered Species Act, said Hunter.
Additionally, there have been two hunting licenses granted for the reintroduced Bighorn sheep in the Seminoe Mountains.