The rationale for cutting the habitat so drastically is grossly flawed. According to the story, much of the area previously, and correctly, designated as critical habitat includes high altitude (above treeline? the story isn’t clear) and densely forested areas that bighorns don’t use.
The reason bighorns don’t use densely forested areas is that they cannot see through them, and unless there is an ewe culture that knows of the old trails through forests through long-term generational use before the forests became so dense, sheep won’t use them.
However, we know from bighorn conservation efforts here in Wyoming and the rest of the Rocky Mountains, if you open up the forests significantly through burns and judicious logging, sheep will in fact expand to and use new range.
Opening up new range for occupation is fundamental to bighorn sheep conservation.
This is simply another aspect of the Bush administration’s twisted argument that we do not need to protect historic range, but only current range. That’s a prescription for extinction.
Robert, that is a great point about older animals using established trails to branch out. (Which is never addressed by repopulation experts.) The only way populations can stay healthy is by expanding into different habitat than what is considered ideal. I’ve often thought that in the end, if CWD overcomes most deer herds, the populations that live a more solitary existence would be the “lifeboats” to repopulation since they would probably be more likely to survive. Again, it seems that science is politicised for some unknown reason. Usually at the base of these decisions is some desire for development, be it resource or housing, which then degrades the government’s credibility again.
I agree. We’ve seen here and elsewhere in the Rockies that with well-established herds, the ewe culture keeps open trails that are hemmed in by encroaching forests, but if that culture is disrupted, then sheep stop using the old trails, and they are hemmed in just as effectively as if someone had put in a wall. What we’ve also learned is that if you open things up, sheep will eventually reoccupy habitat that’s been blocked off by forests.
It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on in the agencies. They are so heavily politicized through capture by development interests that they have prostituted science and good public policy.
Given the low infection rates in free ranging herds, even though it’s higher in deer than elk, we could probably live with CWD. The problem I see is with Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds; if CWD gets onto the high-density feedgrounds, the infection rate could run as high as 50%, which means 50% mortality.