Desert Bighorn Sheep On the Domiguez Escalante NCA in Colorado
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Wildlife Conflict Resolution program (WCR) resolves conflicts between wildlife and livestock through the market-based approach of compensating ranchers for retiring high conflict grazing leases on federal land. In addition to helping restore populations of threatened wildlife, removing grazing from large acreages is a key strategy to restoring healthy, ecological functional landscapes. Thanks to over a decade of funding from the Walker Foundation, the WCR team has retired over 75 grazing allotments totaling over 1.5 million acres. Over 85% of these acres are in the Northern Rockies and has been credited as a significant element in a multi-decade effort to restore the ecological integrity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
In 2017 NWF launched the WCR Southern Rockies, Colorado Plateau and Great Basin state of Colorado program and a new element of our work in the coming year will be to support the reintroduction of wolves to the state.
Over the 12 months following the most recent grant from the Foundation, the WCR program has achieved a number of exciting successes.
In Montana, staff negotiated a 10-year moratorium with the Blackfeet Tribe to remove cattle from a large area that abuts the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park. The tribe was very supportive and will use the 10-year period to work with its tribal members, to permanently close these allotments and to then use this land to expand the tribe's bison herd. Also in Montana, staff negotiated a creative deal with a ranch to remove cattle from a portion of an allotment and to improve the management of the cattle that remain on the remaining portion of the allotment that will functionally eliminate grizzly bear conflicts on 40,000 acres west of Yellowstone National Park on the West Fork of the Madison River.
In Colorado, we have an agreement with a permittee to convert his grazing permits for three allotments on the BLM Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area on the far west slope of the state. This area is home to one of Colorado's highest priority bighorn herds and the removal of domestic sheep will remove the threat of disease transmission to the wild sheep. An additional benefit of the project will be to dramatically reduce the total number of AUMs that are authorized to graze these three allotments by between five and 10 times. The final AUM reduction will be determined by the Environmental Assessment that is currently being developed by BLM, but the outcome will be a dramatic reduction in the total number of hooves on the ground.
In Nevada, we are currently working on three very large deals that once completed, will result in a similar reduction of hooves on the ground across as much as five million acres. These are multi-year negotiations, but the prospect will be the most significant landscape-scale change achieved by the WCR program in the last 20 years.
As will be the subject of this fall's site visit, we are working with our partner the Grand Canyon Trust to retire several permits on the recently re-authorized Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and to negotiate the "buy-down" of authorized AUMs on a number of additional allotments. This will be a novel approach that by piloting in southern Utah, will become a strategy and we can implement elsewhere across the west. The logic is that although we prefer to see grazing permits fully and permanently retired, there are many areas where the permittees and/or the agencies are unwilling to do so. However, to address the critically dire range health condition crisis across much of the arid American West, we believe this strategy will be compelling. We appreciate the support of the Foundation without which, we would be unable to explore these out-of-box opportunities.
Intractable conflicts between livestock and wildlife on public lands has existed for decades. In the past, NGO's has used litigation as a way to force the land management agencies to close high conflict grazing allotments. Beginning in 2001, NWF began using a market-based approach that recognized the economic value of grazing permits and offer to compensate ranchers for waiving their permit. We then receive assurances for from the agency that the allotment will not be restocked with livestock.
NWF has used this novel approach to address conflicts between large carnivores in the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem for the last 20 years and in addition has employed the strategy to reduce conflicts between domestic and bighorn sheep. Because of the absence of large carnivores in the southern rockies, we have only focused on retiring domestic sheep allotments.
(Check sent: 6/11/2021)