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BLM advisory council to host meetings on domestic sheep grazing

Bighorn sheep graze in Southwest Colorado. (Courtesy Bureau of Land Management)
Zoom link, public comment available for Montrose meetings

The Bureau of Land Management Southwest District Resource Advisory Council will hold six meetings of a subcommittee formed to consider domestic sheep grazing in bighorn sheep habitat in Southwest Colorado.

The initial meeting will introduce subcommittee members to the issue of domestic sheep grazing and overlapping bighorn sheep habitat on high alpine terrain outside Silverton managed by the BLM Gunnison Field Office.

The meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for March 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office, 2465 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose.

A 30-minute public comment period will be provided from 12:45 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. Individuals who wish to speak are encouraged to submit a written copy of their statement for the administrative record.

Interested parties unable to attend the meeting in person are invited to join online via Zoom.

“The subcommittee will take a deep dive to learn more about the issue and hear from a variety of people involved, listen to concerns, and from people with knowledge about sheep grazing,” said D. Maggie Magee, BLM public information officer.

The meeting agenda is available online at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/public_projects Additional meeting times will be announced.

For information or to register to speak during the public comment period, contact Maggie Magee at (970) 240-5323 or dmagee@blm.gov.

Domestic sheep allotments on BLM land are depended on by sheep herders in the Uncompahgre District. (Courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

Contact between domestic sheep and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can pose a health risk to the bighorn population with diseases that may cause pneumonia, reduced lamb survival or high mortality in a herd, according to the BLM Gunnison Field Office.

The BLM intends to present alternative management strategies that minimize risk of contact and subsequent transmission of respiratory disease between domestic sheep and wild sheep, and still provide grazing on public lands.

In September 2022, the BLM Southwest District Resource Advisory Council voted to create a subcommittee to gather information and engage in robust discussion in order to provide a recommendation to the full RAC on domestic sheep grazing permit renewals in bighorn sheep habitat.

The full RAC will then advise BLM officials on the issue.

The Southwest District RAC represents a number of critical stakeholders in the area, including county commissioners, grazing permittees, and mining, recreation and environmental interests. The Sheep Grazing subcommittee consists of members serving in an advisory capacity on issues related to domestic sheep grazing in bighorn sheep habitat managed by the BLM Gunnison Field Office on high alpine allotments near Silverton.

Mar 14, 2022
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep graze along Colorado 145

Each meeting will explore a component of the sheep grazing issue. The meeting topics are: March 14 framing the issue; April 5 legal framework; May 9 economics; June 13 mitigation opportunities; July 18 public outreach and tools; and Aug. 15 conclusion.

The BLM Southwest District Office released two proposed decisions for the final Environmental Impact Statement for Domestic Sheep Grazing Permit Renewals, according to a Sept. 7 BLM presentation at the Southwest District RAC meeting.

There is one decision for each permit. Each proposed grazing decision will be subject to a 15-day protest period before becoming a final decision. The final decision will have a 30-day appeal period.

The project area is in Gunnison, Hinsdale and Ouray counties and includes nine grazing allotments on 65,710 acres of public land.

BLM has received numerous protests, communications expressing concerns with the proposed decisions, in addition to communications expressing support for the proposed decisions, according to the presentation minutes.

“BLM is currently working through the feedback received, conducted discussions with stakeholders and is carefully considering the issues raised within the context of the decision space analyzed in the Environmental Impact Statement,” according to the presentation. “BLM’s goal is reaching a decision that more closely balances the needs of the permittees with protections for the bighorn sheep.