Bighorn Sheep Rule Stirs Debate in West

Mark Rey recently issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) requiring the Forest Service to test bighorn sheep for disease before the federal government allows states to transplant wild sheep on Forest lands.  As one might guess, this move chafes at state wildlife managers’ long-held claim to exclusive management of wildlife. It’s angering bighorn advocates & environmentalists too !       

Bighorn Sheep Rule Stirs Debate in West – Wall Street Journal



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  1. vickif Avatar

    If this were not so pathetic, it might be humerous.

    It says nothing about testing domestic sheep. The far bigger picture to be examined is how the hell do the Big Horn get respiratory desease to begin with? Did it spontaneously errupt into their systems? Or could we, just for once, address the obvious? Transmission occured , in all probability, by domestic sheep who were exposed (likely from humans who were infected) having come into contact with wild Big Horn populations. What are we doing, truthfully to protect the Big Horn, and why do we paint pretty pictures of phony attempts to protect them?

    We are willing to expend countless thousands of dollars to test Big Horn, when we could easily keep domestic sheep from coming into contact with them….keep the sheep off public lands. Then we don’t spend tireless efforts restoring what the destroy, or saving what we cannot replace-Big Horn and their habitat.

    The actual reality is we are trying to protect domestic sheep, as with numerous other places and species (bison and elk, YNP and beyond) at the cost of our public lands and wildlife. Call it what it is, sheep shit, crap, manure…a load of fertilizer- no matter what you call it, it is being fed to us so that ranchers can continue to deficate on our rights and our lands.

    I wish we could hold conference with Obama, the Dept. of Ag, the DOI, EPA…and make one demand. It would take only one to end a lot, no the majority, of the degradation of natural resources in this country, one demand being met.

    Remove, once and for all, the ulitmate deception through words from all governing documents surrounding public land use…take the words “MULTIPLE USE CONCEPT” out of public land documents. Those three words have led to the demise of so much, for the profit of so few. Those words are the beat all-end all of deceptive advertising. They have allowed for the negated rights of the public, and the abandonment of responsibilities of the ag industry.

    Besides the fact that this MOU can be abandoned by it’s signers, therefore making it a farce to begin with, it is based on principals which falsely represent the best interests of the public. I, for one, am tired of having some beauracratic suit tell the world that they are doing this for me. I don’t ranch- I hike, I fish, I hunt, and I view wildlife. I don’t eat mutton, don’t wear wool….don’t see why sheep should be grazed where wildlife roam.

    Public land use has been destroyed by the malicious use of the term “multiple use concept”. That concept is driving the extinction of of wild places and our wild lands, and wildlife. If we irradicate that term, and replace it with perhaps “MINIMAL impact public RECREATIONAL use”, we’d be far more honest and far better off in achieving the truth and preservation of desired public lands and their uses.

    Put the ‘public’ back in their public lands….re-invent public land by establishing new wording- use better and honest language, appropriately represent intention, and provide for it’s continued existence and availability to future generations. Give the public back their land and the rights that go with that.

    We see few other examples of such injustices in our country…if any other rights were being stripped away, there would be such an out cry that it would be dealt with swiftly and decisiveley. If we took away the public’s right to vote, or freedom of speech, we would see civil uprising or even revolution. Why is our right to ownership over what is public so easily cast away without notice?

    Man, this really ticks me off. Every time I read another document like this I get angrier.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I think Mark Rey and the woolgrowers probably intended the MOU to be offensive. To borrow the old feminist phrase that all politics is personal, the woolgrowers certainly agree.

  3. vickif Avatar


    If that was their intention, they succeeded. I rarely get that ticked. Perhaps they should be careful what they wish for, I just submitted an editorial to three papers.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You’re a good teacher 😉

  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Historian Pete Simpson, former Wyoming Senator Al Simpson’s brother, once said: “In Wyoming, everything’s political except politics. Politics is personal.”

    However, in this case, it’s mostly political. This MOU is clearly a response by the sheep industry to WWP’s success in Idaho in shutting down domestic sheep grazing at Hell’s Canyon. It also reflects a power grab by APHIS to extend control over wildlife management using disease as a cover. Interestingly, APHIS does absolutely nothing to prevent the transmission of disease from livestock to wildlife; it “worries” only about the potential for the transmission of disease from wildlife to livestock. That’s part of what I’ve been calling the brucellosis fraud with bison and elk.

    What I find most interesting in this MOU is the assertion by the Forest Service of authority over state wildlife management activities, in this case, bighorn sheep transplants. Yet, in granting the State of Wyoming 20 year special use permits to operate disease-ridden elk feedgrounds on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Forest Service denied it had any authority over state wildlife management activities, in this case feeding elk, a true threat to Forest resources.

    If this isn’t politics, I don’t know what is.


  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You’re right.

    I meant much politics is impersonal. It is about classes of people, e.g., students, labor unions, the South, livestock interests, Citibank, senior citizens. The names of the people in these classes don’t matter.

    In this case, the MOU was probably created at the request of certain individual woolgrowers. Their names are probably known to a fair number of people on this blog. The MOU is to protect their specific economic interests and pointedly to give a big middle finger to several conservation groups and their leaders.

  7. TC Avatar

    Interesting discussion, but to my way of thinking, missing the meat and potatoes. This may be a middle finger to someone, but it’s not really conservation groups, oddly enough it’s state wildlife management agencies and their wildlife disease experts. It is a power grab by USDA (mostly APHIS, I still think FS is against this if you ask them privately), but aside from that, it has serious consequences for wildlife management, and more specifically wildlife disease management by states. There are reasons why bighorn sheep are tested for disease agents before translocation, and perhaps the best reason is to avoid moving diseased or carrier sheep from one population to another (worst-case scenario – naive) population and endangering the extant sheep. Yes, probably most significant respiratory complex disease outbreaks are caused by interaction with domestic sheep, but not all – it does sometimes occur because of pathogens already present within bighorn herds (and no, not from infected humans – we are not carriers of relevant Mannheimia, Pasteurella, Mycoplasma, RSV, or other pathogens involved here). This testing already happens, using wildlife disease expertise and labs present in most Western states. NVSL has very little expertise with most wildlife diseases, and mandating that they are the authority here is laughable. It also cuts out state agencies that have been doing this forever, maintaining databases, sharing information across state lines, and contributing to regional research, guidelines, and programs designed to move bighorn sheep health/disease issues forward. NVSL is a black hole – samples and data go in, but rarely ever come back out to state folks that need the information. This MOU has the potential to serve as a template for yet more turf grabbing by USDA APHIS VS on wildlife or wildlife/livestock interface disease issues, and it should be fought tooth and nail by anyone that cares about these issues. It’s odd timing too, given that the undercurents coming out of APHIS lately have all indicated their desire (and perhaps budgetary need) to withdraw to some extent from many wildlife disease issues, including brucellosis. Stay on point here – this is about states’ rights to exercise their expertise and decades of knowledge with this species, not so much directly about grazing allotments and domestic sheep policy and woolgrowers association’s insular and dated attitudes…

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I do know quite a bit about these issues and yes, I do know that the states traditionally have tested bighorns for disease before transplanting them to other areas and also have a certain degree of expertise regarding bighorn management (even though they are using that expertise less and less). That certainly was the case with my local bighorn herd, the Whiskey Mountain Herd near Dubois Wyoming, before the big die-off 15 years ago.

    However, I find the states rights argument to be without merit. It makes no difference whether it’s state livestock interests (Stockgrowers, ‘Woolgrowers) or federal livestock interests (e.g. APHIS) that control wildlife management. It’s still livestock interests in charge, and that’s the problem–a problem created primarily by state and federal agencies’ capitulation to ranchers.

    Regarding bighorns in the Rocky Mountain states, that capitulation consists in giving woolgrowers/landowners veto authority over bighorn transplants and giving individual ranchers kill permits to take out bighorns that happen to mingle with domestic sheep or goats, or having game wardens do it. I find this unacceptable. That’s why efforts of groups like the WWP to shut down sheep allotments on federal land is so necessary.

    It’s also why the apparent disconnect between the Forest Service’s claim about authority over bighorn transplants and lack of authority over elk feedgrounds isn’t really a disconnect. In both cases, it’s about capitulating to the livestock industry’s demands for no bighorns and lots of feedgrounds. In both cases, it’s about the states neglecting their public trust duties for wildlife, handing control over to livestock interests. The agencies are merely agents for a private industry, not for the public interest.

    It would be nice if the states, instead of emptily defending their “authority” for wildlife management, which they have already abdicated to the livestock industry, defended wildlife against the depredations of the industry. This is called advocating for wildlife, something agencies used to do but do no longer because they have no courage.

    States rights? BS. I grew up in the South during the Civil Rights era. I know exactly what states rights is about. It’s about protecting brutal, selfish oligarchies and neglecting constitutional and sovereign duties to protect peoples rights and civic duties.


  9. TC Avatar


    You’re entitled to your opinions, and I’m entitled to my belief that what you don’t know about wildlife diseases could fill a series of scientific monographs from here to China. Further, you don’t understand my arguments above, because you don’t understand how wildlife disease diagnosis, surveillance, and research work, or who in the field is worth their weight in gold and who is a talking head. You’re out of your league, which I find happens frequently here, and I wish you a good day, because I don’t wish to have this discussion with you – I don’t ever see you discuss anything as much as give the sermon from the high horse, and I have no stomach for it today.


  10. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    A goodly number of people out here would disagree with your opinion, and in any case, my discussion above had to do the politics of disease, not disease itself. You seem unwilling to discuss politics, which stands to reason, since the experience of most of us with agency politics supports the truth of what I’ve been saying. Hell, Todd Wilkinson wrote an entire book about the politics of natural resources, Science Under Siege.

    Why don’t you tell us who you are? I’ve put my name and my knowledge on the line repeatedly; you are hiding behind anonymity. I think that once others know who you are, your credibility will decline to zero.

    Your move.


  11. vickif Avatar


    I don’t know much about ‘animal deseases’, but I can tell you that we- being humans- do carry Mycoplasma, RSV, and a number of other deseases which are transmittable to animals, like influenza, and the common cold. I don’t know if these are the same strains TC mentions, but on the chance they are…his arguement about transmission may be slight.

    Even if not, he still has failed to sway me to believe that it wouldn’t be better to just keep livestock of public lands. He also fails to give any insight as to how he would save the ailing Big Horns, due to their interaction with domesticated sheep.

    I’m not political high baller like some of you here, but it doesn’t take a genious to figure out that if you removed sheep from proximety to Big Horns, the darn sheep wouldn’t get sick…or atleast they couldn’t blame it on wild game animals….like brucellosis.

    I await TC’s move too.

  12. vickif Avatar

    and I spell badly too 🙂

  13. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    If TC is whom I think he is, he’s merely an apologist for the wildlife agency pursuit of the bureaucratic imperative of career, capitulation, cover-up, and cowardice–what I have been calling the 4Cs since my military days when I saw too many of my fellow officers pursuing the 4Cs with all deliberate speed, screwing both their troops and their peers without shame. I had no respect for careerists then, and I don’t now.

    Even if TC isn’t whom I think he is, he still reflects the 4Cs within the wildlife agencies. Capitulation to the livestock industry is indefensible, even if the standard operating procedure.

    The issues TC brought up about the biology and management of various diseases, whether they are carried by animals or humans, or both, have little to do with the politics of states rights vs. federal authority or the politics of the public trust vs. the politics of special interests. What TC said about disease and disease management in bighorns above is technically correct, but irrelevant to the larger issue of how bighorns are to be managed vis domestic sheep, which is what the topic of this thread was.

    TC doesn’t want to talk about politics, which is the fundamental issue, so he tried to change it. He was trying to deflect the discussion from the politics to irrelevant technical details. This avoidance of the policy and political issues has been the strategy of the various agencies with wildlife disease, particularly brucellosis and chronic wasting disease, for years. The public can’t understand the technical details of biology and epidemiology, for example, so that’s what the agencies talk about to make the public’s eyes glaze over and not pay attention. It’s easier to steal or abuse the public’s wildlife when the public is blinded by the technical details and the bogus aura of professional expertise. All is well because Wyoming G&F is in charge. Well, unfortunately, G&F isn’t in charge. The Wyoming Stockgroaners Association is in charge.

    I’m trying to keep the discussion where it belongs, with the politics and the irrational policies, so that the public will come to understand what’s being take from it with the help of people like TC.

    In the case of bighorn sheep management, it’s clearly in the states’ interest to make a “states rights” argument against Rey’s USFS/APHIS MOU rather than admit that the states are using “states rights” to act as agents of the woolgrowers, not of the public. Neglect of the public trust is the core issue, and it’s the issue I intend to keep hammering on. TC can whine about my strategy and badmouth my knowledge all he wants; it just proves my point. The fact is, I do know what I’m talking about, and I also know the difference between biology and politics. It’s my relentless pursuit of the truth that TC doesn’t like, so he has to attack my knowledge. However, I’ll put my knowledge up against his anytime.

    As a matter of fact, I challenged the late Dr. Tom Thorne, the Wyoming G&F wildlife vet and an expert on brucellosis in elk, twice to debate elk feedgrounds in public. Thorne refused both times. Presumably, as a DVM vs. my lowly Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy, he should have leapt at the chance to humiliate me in public. But he refused both times. What does that say about what I know or don’t know?

    And so, here I’ll try again, and challenge TC to a public debate on bighorn management–that is, if he has the courage to reveal whom he is and the courage to put what he knows on the line.

    I agree with you. We do need to get rid of domestic sheep, the primary threat, to protect wild bighorn sheep. And once we get rid of domestic sheep, then we can focus on threats that don’t relate to domestic sheep, such as poor habitat, which is the main problem with my local Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Herd near Dubois, WY.

    The problem there is:

    1) the herd objective of 1320 animals is about twice–probably more–what the habitat can support (the last detailed range assessment of carrying capacity was 1978, a copy of which I have in my files), but local tourism depends partly on claiming the country’s largest herd of bighorn sheep, which is another aspect of how economic concerns trump biological and ecological concerns in wildlife management and

    2) the granitic and sandstone soils ranging between the Herd’s summer and winter range do not provide the nutrients necessary to maintain a large herd of bighorn sheep. Further, there is some reason to believe that airborne pollutants are adversely affecting the chemistry of nutrients such as selenium that affects their uptake into forage bighorns sheep eat.

    However, instead of focusing on these larger ecological and environmental problems, the Wyoming G&F Department focuses on useless practices such as coyote control and spreading mineral blocks/food supplements on the range. The former solves no problems and the latter actually contributes to the spread of disease. Go figure.

    The other primary threat to bighorns is climate change. I don’t know what to do about that, other than to provide as much good habitat to bighorns as we humanly can.

    In short, good bighorn management is largely good habitat management.


    PS. Don’t worry about your spelling. I know what you’re saying.

  14. vickif Avatar

    Climate change is huge, probably bigger than most people think.

    We have record lows in Colorado right now, we haven’t been this low in over a hundred years. OUr coldest months haven’t even hit yet.

    We are getting serious extremes, pounding winters and horrible summers.

    I have been hiking and studying moose here for about seven years. I also watch elk herds, deer, the works. This year I saw elk still in velvet in October and deer in velvet in early November. Moose rut started about three weeks early, and deer were fawning in September. Everything is a mess.

    Now, the one good that could come from a crushing winter would be a kill off of pine beetles. Given that no agency has taken action, we could use a massive freeze. But last winter saw more snow then we had in a decade and the beetles are still going strong. I caught a rainbow this summer who’s mouth was so full of them I couldn’t see the fly it took.

    This effects bighorn too as they are located in the same areas many of the moose are, and the moose are spreading out because of the tree loss. We are seeing much deeper undergrowth, and the rest of the state is turning to kindling. The aspen began to thrive, but due to the heavy snow and then extreme heat, they are battling fungus.

    We need some common sense here. More bighorns would thin out undergrowth so new pines can have better growth chances. We need the balance back.

    Climate change, sadly, needs to be addressed both at home and globaly….we need leaders among men to stand up and demand change.

  15. Salle Avatar

    I spent some time in central Idaho, Stanley area, this past summer ~ hadn’t been there for nearly ten years ~ and I was horrified to see that the once lush green forests had turned a spooky rust color due to beetle infestation. It looked, to me like a good part of the Frank Church Wilderness was seriously affected as well. It was a sad view from every mountain vista I went to.

    Another issue to consider, when thinking about this deforestation that is taking place, is that the salmon no longer return to nourish the forests with ocean derived phosphorus and nitrates. Like the forests have HIV/AIDS of a sort due to decades, nearly a century, of deprivation of nutrients needed to feed all flora and fauna of the inland forests. A keystone specie if ever there was one.

  16. buffalorunner Avatar

    Domsestic sheep also pose the threat of transmitting malignant catharral fever to bison. This disease often causes mortality rates among infected bison herds as high as 40%. Imagine if this were to get into the YNP bison population or the quarantine bison after they are translocated. Domestic sheep have no business on public lands where they may pose serious health threats to the viability of wildlife. And, let’s not forget the environmental degradation they may cause as well, thus outcompeting and displacing native wildlife for quality forage.


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Brian Ertz