The U.S. Forest Service has been compelled to evaluate the potential closure of grazing allotments for domestic sheep in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
This outcome stems from a settlement reached between wildlife conservation groups and the agency, following a federal court lawsuit aimed at safeguarding wild bighorn sheep. The transmission of bacterial pneumonia from domestic herds has inflicted illness upon wild herds, including the Quilomene population that spans from Malaga to Ellensburg. The plaintiffs contended that despite being aware of the threat as early as 2010, the Forest Service persisted in permitting domestic sheep grazing near bighorn herds.
To resolve the case, the agency has agreed to undertake a long-delayed environmental review, the findings of which could determine the cessation of this practice. In line with these efforts, Fish and Wildlife recently implemented a new regulation that prohibits domestic sheep and goats from accessing specific sensitive areas within the bighorn sheep range.
The settlement signifies a significant step towards addressing the concerns raised by wildlife conservation groups and aiming to mitigate the health risks posed to wild bighorn sheep. The environmental review holds the potential to guide future decisions regarding grazing practices and the protection of these herds in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.