PHOENIX (CN) – The U.S. Forest Service will cause a “die-off” of bighorn sheep by its decision to allow private livestock companies to drive 12,000 domestic sheep across the Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests for a month, the Western Watersheds Project claims in Federal Court. The environmental group says domestic sheep “carry disease that is fatal” to bighorn sheep and any contact between the species could devastate the bighorns.
The Forest Service is allowing private companies to drive the sheep across the national forests this month and in September.
Since bighorn sheep are friendly animals and are known to make contact with domestic sheep, they are at a high risk for disease, the Watersheds Project says.
It claims the Forest Service never completed an environmental analysis of the sheep drive, but has allowed it twice a year over many years.
Up to 8,000 sheep have been driven across parts of the two national forests, and another 4,000 sheep across part of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, all without proper environmental analysis, the environmentalists say.
The Watersheds Project wants the domestic sheep drive enjoined until the Forest Service does an environmental analysis to determine the effect of the herds on the “important and rare populations of wild bighorn sheep as well as the more common impacts upon water quality, wildlife habitat, and soil productivity caused by livestock grazing of this nature.”
Such analysis is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Watersheds Project is represented by Erik Ryberg of Tucson.