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Grazing will continue in Montana’s Gravelly Mountains

Bighorn Sheep

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service announced that there would be no changes to the current domestic sheep grazing guidelines that are currently allowed in Montana’s Gravelly Mountains. This decision follows a lengthy debate over whether permitting domestic sheep to use the public land for grazing was detrimental to wild bighorn sheep herds in that region. Domestic sheep are carriers of bacterial pneumonia, which has caused massive die-offs in wild herds across the West.

As goHUNT previously reported, the Gallatin Wildlife Association and the Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation sued the Forest Service over this issue in 2015. The judge said that the Forest Service didn’t gather enough scientific information to determine the impact of domestic sheep grazing in the Gravelly Mountains on bighorn sheep. While the 2016 ruling found the court siding with both groups, it did not block grazing on federal lands. Rather, the judge required the Forest Service “to consider and disclose the impacts of the agreements,” according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The final environmental analysis was released in January and the final decision to continue current grazing practices was released last week.

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With only 41 sheep remaining out of the original 69 transplanted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) to the Greenhorns in 2003 and 2004, those who sued the Forest Service were disappointed with the final decision and fear it will be detrimental to the continuation of wild sheep within the Gravelly Range.

“Bighorn sheep are a sensitive species,” Glenn Hockett, president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “The Forest Service should be doing proactive things to restore habitat.”

The current agreements between the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, MFWP and sheep ranchers within the Gravelly Range “allowed ranchers to request kill permits for wild sheep that come within a half-mile of domestic herds” though the Forest Service says “that portion of the agreement has not been used,” according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Stay tuned to goHUNT for further updates.



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John M. - posted 1 year ago on 11-24-2018 04:50:41 pm
Heath H. - posted 1 year ago on 11-08-2018 09:24:05 am


There is a buffer already. The domestic sheep and the bighorns have never had contact since they introduced them into the Greenhorn range. The sheep ranchers in this case were very approachable about the introduction of a bighorn herd, and helped with the ground rules on the introduction. As an avid hunter and also a member of the WSF I'm typically all about growing Bighorn herds, but this case is different. Glenn Hockett doesn't have any actual intent to help the bighorns in this area. When the area biologist decided to give out a sheep tag for this unit this season Glenn was the only person to disagree with that. The WSF and the MT WSF were both very supportive. Hockett's reasoning was "It looks bad given the current lawsuit." This lawsuit is more about getting public grazing shutdown in the area...

Charles B. - posted 1 year ago on 11-07-2018 07:02:01 am
Elk River, MN

That's a tough deal, and selfishly I prefer the idea of a solid sheep population in the Gravelly's. Is there any merit to a land swap or purchase that could buffer the two entities? Basically "graze here, not there."

Joshua K. - posted 1 year ago on 11-04-2018 06:23:41 pm

Seth, your idea sounds great on paper. I think the problem is that those grazing rights hold much more value than what they cost. Ranchers probably aren't willing to give them up for anything close to the price they pay.

I am sure this is different everywhere, I am only basing my thoughts from some of the prices I have heard about.

Seth D. - posted 1 year ago on 11-01-2018 11:46:07 am
Public Lands

It is a double headed nightmare for everyone. Ranchers have leases going back to the 1910's, and pro hunting wildlife management NGO's like Safari Club, Wild Sheep and RMEF have invested money in putting more sheep on the mountain.

Game departments have been pushed and funded by NGO money to put more sheep on the mountain.
As this ultimately provides more opportunity for hunters who want a sheep. I am one of those hunters.

I was also one of those ranchers growing up, and while my family is no longer in the ranching industry cattle and domestic sheep were once part of the industry that put a roof over my head and food in my belly.

State Fish and Wildlife organizations like money, it is what drives their big engine to protect wildlife and offer recreation to those residents and nonresidents sportsmen they cater to.

Who wins?

I personally think that the WSF, SCI, Weatherby Foundation and other NGO's should buy or lease grazing rights from ranchers, and incentivize the propagation of wild sheep to those ranchers. Instead of dragging the entire industry into court, and no one other than the NGOs and Ranching lawyers make a buck off this deal.

Think of all the finances wasted by the NGOs and federal/state governments over these lawsuits.