Denver, Co — July 1, 2020 — Shepherds have herded their flocks on the slopes of southern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains since before they became part of the national forest system. Domestic sheep and their wild cousins, the bighorn, safely and amicably shared these vast spaces for a century or more.
Now, however, professional green extremists want to upend that tradition of coexistence by forcing domestic sheep off federal grazing allotments, claiming they pose a health threat to the bighorns. It’s the latest is a long string of attacks on livestock producers across the West, using alleged threats to protected species as a pretext.
“Evidence shows that proper livestock management can mitigate the very minor risk of disease transmission to bighorn sheep,” said MSLF attorney Brian Gregg.
A lawsuit brought by two of the most rabid anti-grazing groups in the nation, WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Forest Service, seeks to reverse a Forest Service decision to allow domestic sheep grazing on the Rio Grande National Forest. The groups claim, without evidence, that potential contact between domestic sheep and nearby populations of bighorn sheep are all but certain to spread disease from the former to the latter. But really, this claim is just a pretext to bar the use of these federal grazing allotments.
MSLF represents experienced sheep rancher J. Paul Brown, a former legislator in the Colorado General Assembly who holds several grazing allotments on the San Juan National Forest. Mr. Brown fears he could lose the use of those grazing rights if the plaintiffs prevail.
MSLF also represents the Colorado Farm Bureau Federation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1919, representing nearly 25,000 ranchers, farmers, and other industry professionals in every county in the state. Both clients fear for the future of sheep ranching in the southern Rockies if anti-grazing groups prevail. In fact, Mr. Brown already sold one of his allotments due to threats this litigation poses, but he still clings to his livelihood–for now.
“Not long ago, in Idaho, environmentalists used similar claims to strike a devastating blow against public lands livestock operators in the Northern Rockies,” explained MSLF attorney Brian Gregg. “And they’ve dusted off tactics from the same playbook to go gunning for sheep ranchers in Colorado and the Southern Rockies. Anti-grazing groups are extending their attacks on ranchers. Another court victory for them could start the dominos falling across the Mountain West.”
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