Forest Seeks to Balance Bighorn Sheep, Domestic Grazing Needs; Scoping Comment Period Now Open

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Bighorn SheepCentral Washington — Near Cleman Mountain, a herd of wild bighorn sheep graze on bunch grass as part of their summer range. This herd is one of an estimated 1,690 bighorns in the state of Washington. But this herd and others may be at risk of pneumonia, a deadly respiratory disease typically initiated by spillover events of bacteria from domestic sheep and goats. Starting this spring, the Forest is beginning the environmental analysis process to update nearly 30 year-old existing forest plans for the management domestic sheep or goat grazing allotments consistently with a mandate to maintain viable bighorn sheep populations.

“This analysis will help design a good path forward as we manage for both grazing and wildlife in a sustainable way,” said Deputy Forest Supervisor Erick Walker. “Together with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and US Agricultural Research Service, we are working to address this issue.”

This analysis will take a holistic approach to grazing and wildlife management across the Forest by considering social, economic, and natural resource issues. However, no existing allotments would change as a result of this project. Subsequent analyses would be conducted to evaluate conditions relative to risk of contact and ability to mitigate risk at the allotment scale. These future analyses would inform site specific, tiered decisions.

“I encourage folks to get involved early on in this analysis,” added Walker. “We want to build on early participation and collaboration efforts with the intent of understanding concerns before a final decision is made.”

In accordance with federal regulations, comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received within 45 days of publication in the Federal Register. To comment, please visit the full project page and consider participating in our May 23, 2019 virtual open-house meeting or in-person meeting June 12, 2019 from 6-7:30pm at the Cle Elum Ranger Station. A draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected in the winter of 2019. A 45-day formal comment period will follow at that time.

Bighorn story map screenshot

An interactive storymap is available for this project to visually represent current Bighorn Sheep range and domestic grazing allotments on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in central Washington. Credit: USDA Forest Service map.

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