Contested domestic sheep allotment in Colorado retired

Rancher J. Paul Brown gives up his permit near the Weminuche Wilderness to protect vulnerable bighorn sheep populations.


J. Paul Brown looks over his sheep at their winter range near Aztec, Colorado. Brown has agreed to a buyout on one of his grazing allotments in the Weminuche Wilderness that posed a risk to bighorn sheep.

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In the Western United States, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, a disease carried by domestic sheep, has obliterated historic bighorn populations, especially in the Rocky Mountains. For the past several years, rancher J. Paul Brown fought to preserve his right to range domestic sheep in historic bighorn habitat in southwestern Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness Area, the state’s largest wilderness, despite scientific proof that domestic sheep transmit the disease to their wild cousins (“Agricultural interests steer Colorado’s wildlife management,” 8/31/18).

In late March, the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program and the rancher announced an agreement to waive Brown’s permit to graze the Endlich Mesa domestic sheep allotment in order to protect the area’s bighorn sheep population. “Even though I don’t really like it, in this case, it worked out,” Brown told the Durango Herald. “It seemed to be the best thing for us to do.”

Paige Blankenbuehler is an associate editor for High Country News. She oversees coverage of the Southwest, Great Basin and the Borderlands from her home in Durango, Colorado. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

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