SILVERTON, Colo. – The National Wildlife Federation and the Etchart family have finalized an agreement that will provide fair market value compensation to waive the family’s grazing permits on 10 large, high-elevation allotments. Spanning 101,676 acres in the San Juan mountain range, retiring grazing permits on these allotments reduces conflicts by creating permanent separation between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep.
“While retiring the grazing permits on these allotments is a huge win for bighorns, these agreements are still difficult decisions for the livestock producer and the Etchart’s have been an incredible partner in every step of the process,” said Bob McCready, wildlife conflict resolution program manager with the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s important we recognize the stewardship of public lands by range management staff from the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and ranchers. We especially want to acknowledge the Etchart family’s commitment to partnering with federal agencies and nonprofit wildlife conservation organizations to protect bighorn sheep for generations to come.”
Once abundant in Colorado, the state’s current bighorn population is estimated to be about 10 percent of its historical size.
“These allotments were good ones for our sheep operation. But with the increasing number of backcountry recreational users and proximity to bighorn sheep, the conflicts were becoming a real challenge,” Ernie Etchart said. “At the end of the day, this was a business decision for us – it was an opportunity we felt like we needed to pursue and it will allow us to diversify our operation.”
The allotments have been grazed for more than 100 years and overlap with one of the nation’s most important bighorn sheep herds in the San Juans. Retiring the grazing permits will safeguard bighorns and other sensitive species on over 100,000 acres of fragile alpine tundra habitat.
Where conflicts between livestock and wildlife are prolonged and intractable, the National Wildlife Federation believes that public land grazing retirements can provide and equitable solution for ranchers and wildlife interests. In coordination with federal land managers, the Federation negotiates with livestock ranchers to retire public land livestock grazing allotments that experience chronic conflict with wildlife. This market-based approach recognizes the economic value of public land livestock grazing permits and fairly compensates ranchers for retiring their leases. This approach has proven a successful model across the west and in over 20 years of doing this work, we have resolved conflicts on more than 1.7 million acres.
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