100,000 Acres for Wild Bighorns

Scores of wild bighorn sheep across the Northern Rockies are catching a devastating disease and dying within a few days or weeks.

bighorn lamb and ewe

Wild bighorn lamb and ewe in the Northern Rockies. Photo by Steve Woodruff.

The bighorns are contracting deadly pneumonia from domesticated sheep that are grazing in important wildlife corridors and key areas of the bighorns’ habitat. Once a single bighorn sheep has been exposed, the pneumonia virus quickly spreads, and is often lethal for every single member of the herd: rams, ewes and especially lambs.

Wildlife advocates and conservationists are concerned as disease is taking a toll on the bighorn population that has been declining dramatically since the 1980’s. Bighorn sheep herds that live near domesticated sheep grazing areas in Montana’s Bear Canyon and Indian Creek have suffered tremendously—with two catastrophic die-offs from disease within the last 30 years. And the population in Idaho has plummeted by nearly 50% over the same time period.

Naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton estimated that at one time we had more a than million wild bighorn sheep. Right now, there are only about 33,000 bighorns left across all our western states.

Since there is no way to treat bighorns once they become sick, or vaccinate healthy ones against the disease, the only way to protect bighorns is to keep them separated from domesticated sheep.

Safeguarding Bighorn Habitat

bighorn lambsUnfortunately, limiting contact between bighorns and domestic sheep isn’t simple.

That’s where National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre program comes in. Through the program, sheep ranchers who graze their livestock on public lands through “grazing allotments” are paid to voluntarily retire the allotments and move their domesticated sheep off of those lands. At the same time, federal land management agencies permanently close the lands to livestock use.

For less than $5.00 an acre, more than 685,000 acres of critical wildlife habitat has already been safeguarded for vulnerable bighorn sheep, bison, grizzly bears and wolves.

We’re committed to doubling wild bighorn numbers over the next two decades and have identified over 100,000 acres in Wyoming and Idaho that, if secured, would have an immense impact in reducing disease transition and increasing bighorn populations.

Today, we need your help to secure the 100,000 acres for bighorn sheep and their offspring. Donate to the Adopt a Wildlife Acre program through Animal Planet’s R.O.A.R Campaign and your gift will be matched.

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