Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Domestic sheep a primary threat to bighorn survival.
Critical habitat is proven to help endangered species recovery.

NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release December 8, 2005

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist 760.366.2232 x306

SACRAMENTO - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit against the U.S. Interior Department seeking critical habitat conservation to aid recovery of endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.

Critical habitat and recovery plans are very important tools for endangered species conservation and recovery. Species with critical habitat are more than twice as likely to have an improving population trend than species without. Species with dedicated recovery plans were significantly more likely to be improving and less likely to be declining than species without. (BioScience, April 2005,

But despite having had six years to do it, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has failed to designate bighorn recovery habitat or complete a species recovery plan.

Critical habitat designation provides useful maps and guidance to U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, and other land managers, helping them make decisions to benefit wildlife and people.

"The Bush Interior Department has an moral and legal responsibility to recover California's Sierra Nevada bighorn. Protecting critical habitat and finishing the recovery plan is the right thing to do, and it will work," said Daniel R. Patterson, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who formerly worked with BLM in California.

"Americans want wild Sierra Nevada bighorn recovered for future generations, and critical habitat provides the best way to do it. Critical habitat will also help protect Sierra Nevada quality of life."

Sierra Nevada bighorn recovery has been especially threatened this year. Despite a clear threat to endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the Bush Forest Service is not taking strong action to keep disease-spreading domestic sheep away from bighorns, forcing the California Department of Fish and Game to consider killing wild bighorns that may get too close to encroaching domestic sheep.

Domestic sheep are a major reason for decline of Sierra Nevada bighorn. Domestic sheep can spread fatal diseases such as scabies and pneumonia to bighorns, and infected bighorn can then spread disease to other wild sheep, decimating entire herds.

Disease spread by livestock is a major threat to bighorn survival and recovery, but not the only one. Domestic sheep also compete with bighorns for limited food plants, compromising bighorn health. Domestic sheep also foul watersheds, and spark killing of ecologically important predators such as mountain lions. Development and poorly managed recreation can also be threats.

Documents the Center gained this summer through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) has been pushing against bighorn recovery by bullying the Forest Service not to interfere with Nevada-based sheepmen, who are resisting changing grazing practices to help bighorn recovery on Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest (HTNF) public lands in California. Pombo asked the HTNF to not interfere with domestic sheep grazing on bighorn habitat on the Bridgeport Ranger District in Mono County, and demanded monthly reports on HTNF dealings with sheep ranching permitees.

A notorious anti-conservation voice, Pombo often complains wildlife agencies are not doing enough to recover endangered species, but Pombo himself is pushing positions that directly harm bighorn recovery. Although critical habitat is proven to help wildlife recovery, Pombo and the U.S. House moved in September with administration support to strip it from the Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists are now working with the U.S. Senate to keep critical habitat in the Act.

Conservationists want a true solution for the bighorn, and have been forced into court by irresponsible federal management.

Critical habitat should be designated and protected along the Eastern Sierra Nevada, including parts of the Inyo and Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forests, and some adjacent BLM public lands.

The Center is a 15,000 member national conservation organization based in Tucson, and is represented in this action by Conservation Attorney Lisa Belenky in the Center's San Francisco office. The Center has members in Inyo and Mono Counties and across the Sierra Nevada.


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