Pitkin County mulls $32K for bighorn sheep health

In an effort to prevent native bighorn sheep from being in contact with a domestic herd, Pitkin County officials will consider spending $32,000 to eliminate a sheep grazing allotment in the upper Crystal River.

The county’s commissioners and the Open Space and Trails board will discuss the option on Tuesday, according to a statement sent Friday. They would be part of a deal the National Wildlife Federation has negotiated with rancher Joe Sperry of Delta, whose family has been using the more than 33,000 acre allotment near Marble for decades, officials said. The federation’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program has been retiring grazing allotments for 20 years in the Northern Rockies (about 1.4 million acres to date) but only expanded into Colorado in late 2017, Bob McCready, a program manager with the NWF, said in the statement.

Domestic sheep carry a number of respiratory pathogens that can, and often do, decimate entire herds of bighorn sheep, McCready said. Sperry’s flock of nearly 1,000 ewes and lambs is being relocated.

The $32,000 from Pitkin County equals the amount committed from Two Shoes Ranch and support from the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails identified bighorn resiliency as a goal in the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail Plan, adopted by county commissioners in December.

“We asked wildlife experts what we could do that would be most beneficial for the bighorn herd up the Crystal,” said Gary Tennenbaum, director of Open Space and Trails. “They advised us to focus on eliminating the herd’s interaction with domestic sheep. The National Wildlife Federation has been instrumental in making this happen, but I also give a lot of the credit to Mr. Sperry for agreeing to give up a long-held allotment for the benefit of native bighorns.”

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