Domestic Sheep Grazing in the Weminuche Wilderness

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Domestic Sheep Grazing in the Weminuche Wilderness

Date: 06/23/2023     State: CO     Issues: Wild Lands, Wildlife     Partners: Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Mountain Studies Institute, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, Southern Ute Indian Tribe Airport Origin : Durango, CO    


EcoFlight and our flight partners are working to protect habitat connectivity and the health of Colorado's wild bighorn sheep populations by educating the public and decision makers about the risks and challenges of allowing domestic sheep grazing in sensitive alpine ecosystems.

The Weminuche Wilderness is spectacularly rugged and wild. Yet its expansive and remote high-alpine meadows are visited by some unlikely characters - domestic sheep. These unique high-altitude grazing allotments are out of sync with the fragility of alpine and subalpine ecosystems, and can cause serious problems for local wildlife, especially wild bighorn sheep who are susceptible to diseases carried by domestic sheep.

Our flight examined these high-altitude domestic sheep grazing allotments on USFS land in the Weminuche Wilderness, as well as the proximity and overlap between these allotments and migration corridors used by wild bighorn sheep. In particular, our flight traced the remarkable path of a radio-collared ram who traveled nearly from nearly the southern tip of the Weminuche Wilderness all the way to Silverton and back. This flight illustrated the expansive range wild bighorns can cover, and the fact that no terrain feature, even the San Juan’s notably steep and rocky 14ers and deep river-carved valleys, can contain their travel, nor their interaction with domestic sheep allotments in and near their typical migration corridors.

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