This past July 28th, the Gallatin Wildlife Association conducted its first ever public tour of the Gravelly Mountains. The purpose of the outing was to educate the public and ourselves about the dangers and disruption that domestic sheep and their respective grazing allotments have on Big Horn sheep. Of course the presence of domestic sheep also presents a conflict with other native species trying to establish a corridor between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. President Glenn Hockett of GWA directed the tour and led the discussion throughout the long day of driving and wildlife habitat viewing. But in addition to the learning aspect of the field trip, we, of course, had another side benefit or two of getting to enjoy the mountain scenery and the wildflower proliferation at the same time.
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All pictures below were taken by Clint Nagel of GWA on July 28th on and along the Gravelly Range Road in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. These are about half of the pictures taken. Enjoy them. If you missed attending this event, you missed a great time of learning and enjoying the great outdoors of southwest Montana.
Glenn Hockett explaining the situation on the ground during lunch on top of the Gravelly Crest.
It is not often that bipartisan solutions are offered that cut wasteful government spending and improve the environment. However, that is exactly what both the Trump and former Obama administration proposed when they recommended closing the U.S. Sheep Experimental Station headquartered in Dubois Idaho. They recommended closure for financial reasons, but removing the domestic sheep from public lands in important bighorn sheep and grizzly bear habitat in the Centennial Mountains of Montana and winter range in Idaho would also greatly improve the wildlife habitat. This proposal is welcomed and long overdue. Unfortunately, special interest politics have intervened to disrupt the process.
The old federal sheep station perpetuates conflicts by allowing University of Idaho domestic sheep to use prime bighorn sheep and grizzly bear habitat along the continental divide on the Montana-Idaho border, all at tax payer expense. Numerous scientific peer-reviewed research papers have proven that domestic sheep can transmit pathogens deadly to bighorn sheep when contact occurs. Domestic sheep are also a black hole for Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears attempting to expand their range along the continental divide.
Amazingly, the 16,600 acres controlled by the station in the Centennial Mountains in Montana are not considered public lands by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to USDA all these nationally owned lands are off limits to general public access, including public hunting, hiking, backpacking, etc. The only “legal” public access through this area according to USDA is provided along the Continental Divide Trail. Leaving the trail on sheep station controlled lands, as we understand it, would be considered criminal trespass.
These are some of the wildest places in North America and they represent a crucial wildlife corridor between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem to the west-northwest. A variety of species, including elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, sage grouse, wolves, and grizzly and black bears are adversely impacted by this government domestic sheep grazing program. So is walk in public access. This is no place for a tax-payer subsidized domestic sheep pasture.
Closing the Centennial Mountains to domestic sheep use, opening up public access and reducing the burden to American taxpayers is be a bipartisan issue. It makes both financial and ecological sense. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.
Why then has funding for this old station been placed back in the President’s proposed budget? We encourage you to ask Senators Tester and Daines from Montana and Representative Mike Simpson from Idaho exactly that question. In the interim, hunting/conservation organizations like the Gallatin Wildlife Association and Cottonwood Environmental Law as well as other wildlife and public land access advocates will continue to pursue actions to prevent the wildlife habitat in the Centennial Mountains from being degraded further and work for full public access to these incredible public lands.
The public land in question, most particularly the 16,600 acres of prime wildlife habitat in Montana would best be transferred to the adjacent Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge as the value of this public land for wildlife and public hunting and viewing far outweigh any other use.
Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho 2nd Congressional District:
Senator Steve Daines of Montana:
Senator Jon Tester of Montana:
For more information and to read more, please click on the link below which will take you to another page on this website.
The Montana Bison Restoration Project aims to enhance public awareness of
conservation opportunities for wild, public bison in our state; and to establish a bison herd on public land and private land where bison are accepted, within and near the Charles M. Russell National
The Montana Bison Restoration Coalition consists of individuals and organizations – conservationists, sportsmen and women, landowners and wildlife biologists – dedicated to returning genetically adequate numbers of wild bison to the state. We encourage respectful, public conversation with all stakeholders.
Currently, there is no herd of wild bison, year-round, in Montana.
In 2009, Fish, Wildlife & Parks initiated planning for reestablishing bison. A limited proposal that did not identify a reintroduction site, was developed in 2015, but there has been no decision to proceed.
Bison free of serious diseases that may pass to cattle are available from several sources for this project. FWP has rights to such bison now being cared for at Forts Peck and Belknap Reservations.
Bison in Yellowstone National Park are the only truly wild population of plains bison in the United States. The CMR National Wildlife Refuge is the best location in the country for establishing a second wild herd.
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