Wild Sheep Foundation Works With Agencies as Congress Directs USFS, BLM to Resolve Disease Transmission Issues for Bighorn Sheep
Wild Sheep Foundation’s work at state level now key to stop deadly disease
The year-end spending bill passed by Congress that funds the work of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management includes a Congressional directive to proceed with resolving disease transmission risks for bighorn sheep.
Members of the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) have been working with Congress and the federal agencies to stop the spread of the deadly pneumonia bacteria domestic sheep are transmitting to herds of wild sheep across the western part of the nation.
The Omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2016 directs the USFS and the BLM to work with stakeholders to identify risks of disease and solutions that reduce that risk, and to report back on their initial progress within 60 days.
With Congress now pushing for solutions to disease transmission, we have the opportunity we have been asking for,” said WSF President and CEO Gray N. Thornton. “This helps us move the brick wall impeding our restoration efforts for wild sheep. Outbreaks of disease hinder re-introductions and the expansion of bighorn herds, so removing the risk of disease creates safe zones where we can put and keep wild sheep on the mountains.”
Wild bighorn sheep were first infected by contact with domestic sheep and goats during the European settlement of the western part of the nation. New infections occur when wild and domestic sheep encounter each other in the wild, and infections resurface as die-offs in previously-infected wild sheep herds, even without new contact with domestic sheep.
“The only way to restore bighorn herds and a prosperous domestic sheep industry is to work this out using science and hard bargaining,” said Doug Sayer, the WSF Legislative Affairs Committee Chair. “That’s a neighbor-to-neighbor conversation we have been having in Wyoming and with willing partners in other states. The support of Congress, which is in line with the intentions of the U.S. Forest Service and, we hope, the Bureau of Land Management, is a welcome step toward a state-by-state effort.”
The 60-day deadline for the USFS and the BLM to report on progress puts pressure on the WSF and its chapters and affiliates.
“This will only pay off if we carry our part of the workload,” said Jim Wilson, Chairman of WSF’s Chapters and Affiliates committee.
The WSF leaders credited Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chair of the Senate subcommittee that funds the USFS and the BLM, for her leadership to reach this milestone. “Senator Murkowski really broke the ice for all concerned,” said Thornton.
“We’ve been pushing this inch by inch, and dealing with overreaches and failures, and suddenly we had the senator’s proposal, which became the basis for the final language and now we are getting somewhere,” added Sayer. “Both Senator Murkowski’s and Senator Tom Udall’s (D-NM) efforts really helped move things along, building on the work of Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).
The Wild Sheep Foundation, formerly the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS,) was founded in 1977 by wild sheep conservationists and enthusiasts. WSF’s Mission is to enhance wild sheep populations, promote professional wildlife management, and educate the public and youth on sustainable use and the conservation benefits of hunting while promoting the interests of the hunter and all stakeholders. With a membership of more than 6,000 worldwide and a Chapter and Affiliate network in North America and Europe, WSF is the premier advocate for wild sheep, other mountain wildlife, their habitat, and their conservation.
Since forming in 1977, the Wild Sheep Foundation and its chapters and affiliates have raised and expended more than $110 million on conservation, education and conservation advocacy programs in North America, Europe and Asia towards its purpose to “Put and Keep Sheep On the Mountain”™.
These and other efforts have resulted in a three-fold increase in bighorn sheep populations in North America from their historic 1950-60s lows of 25,000 to 85,000 today.
WSF, its Chapters, Affiliates and agency partners are also working together to ensure bighorn sheep thrive in their northern mountain realms for generations to enjoy.