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LET BIGHORN DANCE

The Flaming Gorge Ranger District on the Ashley National Forest is proposing yet another bighorn sheep habitat im- provement project on the Bare Top near Flaming Gorge. They are proposing to cut and scatter primarily pinyon, juniper, and other vegetation (and to burn some stands) to allow bighorn a better line of sight to avoid predators--cougar.

We have followed these projects for decades now and have urged the Ashley and Wasatch to initiate a programmatic bighorn sheep planning effort. In fact, in the late ‘90s we provided the Forest Service a detailed bighorn sheep report, High Uintas Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Recovery Plan, Oct. 1998, with a rationale as to how to proceed with a systematic reintroduction. Without such an effort, which includes protection of undisturbed habitats and reduction/phase out of domestic grazing, bighorn sheep projects will continue to falter and be guided by piecemeal effort(s) resulting in a series of feeble projects that require constant habitat manipulation becoming more and more intrusive to other species
and ecological integrity. The premise in this project, again, is that bighorn sheep can’t live without foresters and wildlife managers constantly tinkering with ecosystems, primarily to assure human hunters have their easy prey. It is that assumption that must be thoroughly reviewed.

This disjunct effort--the last in a line of several similar projects since the sheep were transplanted into the area in the early ‘80s--will result in more of the past efforts at killing cougar to “benefit” bighorn sheep, an utterly stupid concept. Remember bighorn and cougar have evolved in a remarkable evolutionary and ecological dance. Attempting to bypass that puts the Forest Service at the same diminished level of wildlife managers’ obsession with big game and kowtowing to the recreational interests of hunters.

Ironically, only a few miles from Bare Top, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conducted a mass slaughter of bighorn sheep this winter because some of the sheep were found to have pneumonia. The entire herd, about 52 sheep, were killed.

Without a broad, systemic, ecological plan for bighorn on the Uintas, the Forest Service simply assures ever more habitat
manipulation, affecting other species and the integrity of wild ecosystems. Very likely, there will be additional rounds of the glorified blood-letting and chest- thumping associated with the eradication of an entire herd of bighorn.

The immediate answer seems to be an alternative that allows natural ignitions to burn the isolated stands of pinyon and juniper and other conifers while allowing bighorn to develop the behavioral concepts to avoid sneaky predators using vegetation as cover. This is the way mother nature operates-- it is tried, true and ancient. Ashley National Forest interference in that meaningful process to satisfy big game managers has produced nothing but failure and a need to repetitively intervene.

On the long term, it is imperative to prepare a systematic plan dealing with reintroduction of bighorn sheep on the Uintas. Proceeding in the present context is silly and demeaning.


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