Montana Sheep Producers View of Big Horn Conservation

by  Dave McEwen, President Montana Wool Growers Association

Hardly a month goes by without a new article about how domestic sheep will destroy Montana’s wildlife population and quite possibly the entire Western US ecosystem unless they are eliminated.  Over the past 40 years, domestic sheep have mostly disappeared from federal forest allotments in Montana, originally set up for “multiple use”.  At the same time, demographic trends have seen a good portion of Montana’s traditional winter ranges subdivided and paved over.  Wildlife are now forced onto smaller areas of private land for their winter feed, increasing the tension between private landowners, sportsmen and women and FWP.  Mounting bureaucratic regulations brought on by lawsuits, are forcing management decisions of our state’s wildlife into the hands of federal courts and away from local control.  These regulations also make it difficult for ranchers to continue to graze their federal allotments.  “Good!” some people will say.  In the long term, the loss of grazing rights will exacerbate the subdivision of even more open rangeland as these family ranches become unsustainable.