Some representatives of the domestic sheep industry have been very opposed to accommodating the needs of bighorns when it comes to removal or altering management of their stock on public lands (Hoffman 2007). This has caused difficulty for effective bighorn and domestic sheep management (WAFWA 2010).

domestic sheep in Utah, 1940

Controversy has been particularly significant in Nevada where the domestic sheep industry has notable political influence (WAFWA 2010). According the minutes of a July 2008 meeting of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Wild Sheep Working Group, “[bighorn biologist] Mike [Cox] stated that some of the NV BLM field offices have received copies of the WAFWA guidelines and they are doing their best to follow the guidelines; others have not, or are not doing so” (WAFWA 2008, 3).

“Several potential bighorn reintroductions in Nevada have been contested by the livestock industry . . . . They contend that bighorn reintroductions will seriously hamper their ability to graze livestock of their choice on public lands” (DBC Technical Staff 1990, 33). As recently as the summer of 2010, bighorns in Nevada were experiencing die-offs, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) did not meet with a nearby domestic sheep permittee because of the current political climate in the state (WAFWA 2010). Additionally, “[NDOW] caught hell from one of their new Commissioners” for killing a bighorn that came into contact with domestic sheep (WAFWA 2010, 2).

The upset commissioner may have been domestic sheep rancher Hank Vogler, who was appointed to the Nevada Wildlife Commission in July 2010 while also serving on the Nevada Board of Agriculture (Associated Press 2010). According to an Associated Press article: “Vogler criticized wildlife biologists for killing a bighorn sheep he nicknamed ‘Chin Creek Chin,’ after biologists learned the ram frequently mixed with Vogler’s domestic sheep” (2010). Vogler also stated that killing the bighorn was “‘political assassination’ and wrote, ‘How embarrassing to have a wild sheep mingle with domestic sheep and not die instantly as the pseudo-science seems to suggest’” (Associated Press 2010). The Associated Press adds that regarding the bighorn-domestic sheep disease connection and problem, “Vogler disputes those theories as myths based on old science and an attempt by some to push livestock operators off public lands” (2010).

range manager and sheep producer discuss grazing in Colorado

An example of extreme opposition occurred in New Mexico in the early 1990s when the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMGF) faced serious controversy (Fisher 1993). Fisher explains:

“Based on the high ranking the Caballo Mountains received in Dunn’s analysis, NMGF proposed a transplant to the BLM in 1991 and recommended that public access be restricted by closing 8 roads (ranchers and miners would be permitted access).

Because bighorn transplants were not stipulated in the BLM Resource Management Plan, public input was required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. In June 1992, public meetings were held in Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, which drew 125 and 350 people, respectively. Public comment was overwhelmingly negative, and no supportive statements were made at the Truth or Consequences meeting. Public sentiment was further inflamed by derogatory editorials. Full-page cartoons in local newspapers depicted a bighorn surrounded by a cyclone fence, implying that bighorn would preclude all human activities.

NMGF also received a petition with >1,000 signatures opposing the transplant, and a Caballo rancher threatened to put domestic sheep on his private land if bighorn sheep were transplanted. The dominant theme of the protest was that mining, ranching, and recreation would be restricted, thereby: 1) threatening economic livelihoods; 2) violating ‘custom and culture’ of the Sierra County Land Use Plan; and, 3) inviting government intrusion” (1993, 57).

Fisher notes that the anti-bighorn sentiment relates to the Wise Use Movement of the time, which she refers to as a “1990’s ‘Sagebrush Rebellion’ [that] combines slogans of personal liberty, dominion theology, county supremacy, and maximum use of public lands for maximum profit” (1993, 58).

domestic sheep on New Mexico rangeland during severe drought

As evidenced by Commissioner Vogler’s views, the domestic sheep industry’s opposition to bighorn disease science has gotten to the point where some industry representatives have espoused denialistic paradigms regarding the threat domestic sheep pose to bighorns (Hurley et al. 1999). Clifford et al. state:

“Despite evidence that domestic sheep diseases threaten the persistence of bighorn sheep populations, the economic consequences of restricting domestic sheep grazing has polarized the debate, with some arguing that disease risk posed by domestic sheep has been exaggerated and grazing restrictions should be eased” (2009, 2559).

Dyson (Hells Canyon Preservation Council director in 2007) explains the trends of bighorn-domestic sheep disease science criticism: “There are a couple scientists out there who will say that there is not a connection, and my analogy to that is the climate change scientists who up to at least a year or so ago were saying there’s just not proof of global warming. And now I think all that has been squelched because the evidence is just overwhelming” (Hoffman 2007).

Not all domestic sheep advocates radically question the science of the bighorn-domestic sheep disease connection. For example, Margaret Soulen Hinson (president of the American Sheep Industry Association) knows transmission happens and that it can be important to separate wild and domestic sheep (IPT 2011; Barker 2011). However, she thinks more research on bighorn stressors and disease is important, and “like many sheep ranchers she’s skeptical that 100 percent separation is possible without putting ranchers out of business” (Barker 2011). Furthermore, regarding a 2011 bighorn-domestic sheep workshop put on by the American Sheep Industry Association, bighorn biologist “Kevin [Hurley] stated that no one at [the] workshop publicly questioned or condemned the concept of [bighorn-domestic sheep] separation” (WAFWA 2011, 2).

Associated Press, The. 2010. Critic of NV wildlife agency named to policy board. Las Vegas Sun. August 12. (accessed August 12, 2010).

Barker, Rocky. 2011. Battle for bighorns: Conservationists are struggling to protect bighorn sheep on public lands from disease-carrying livestock. National Wildlife, July. http://www.nwf. org/News-and-Magazines/NationalWildlife/Animals/Archives/2011/ Battle-for-Bighorns .aspx (accessed January 7, 2012).

Clifford, Deana L., Brant A. Schumaker, Thomas R. Stephenson, Vernon C. Bleich, Maya L. Cahn, Ben J. Gonzales, Walter M. Boyce, and Jonna A.K. Mazet. 2009. Assessing disease risk at the wildlife-livestock interface: A study of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Biological Conservation 142, no. 11 (November): 2559-2568.

Desert Bighorn Council Technical Staff. 1990. Guidelines for the management of domestic sheep in the vicinity of desert bighorn habitat. In transactions of DBC’s 34th Annual Meeting, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. April 4-6.

Fisher, Amy S. 1993. Status of bighorn sheep in New Mexico, 1992. In transactions of Desert Bighorn Council’s 37th Annual Meeting, Mesquite, NV. April 7-8.

Hoffman, Nathaniel. 2007. Sheep vs. sheep: A legal battle over Hells Canyon grazing could determine the future of wild sheep and sheep ranching across the West. High Country News. October 1. (accessed March 4, 2009).

Hurley, Kevin (moderator), Jon Jorgenson, Helen Schwantje, Craig Foster, Herb Meyer, Amy Fisher, Dave Hacker, Harley Metz, Jim Karpowitz, Melanie Woolever, Dick Weaver, Tim Schommer, Cal McCluskey, Duncan Gilchrist, Jim Bailey, Bonnie Pritchard, Dave Byington, Dave Smith, Bill Foreyt, and Dave Hunter (discussion members). 1999. Open discussion – Are we effectively reducing interaction between domestic and wild sheep? Discussion in proceedings of 2nd North American Wild Sheep Conference, Reno, NV. April 6-9.

Idaho Public Television (IPT). 2011. Dialogue: “Bighorn Sheep, Continued.” IPT Website. Windows Media audio/video file. =234317 (accessed October 21, 2011).

Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). 2008. WAFWA Wild Sheep Working Group: July 12, 2008 (Ramkota Inn, Badlands Room Rapid City, SD). N.p.: WAFWA. minutes071208.pdf (accessed July 11, 2012).

Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). 2010. WAFWA Wild Sheep Working Group teleconference: November 9, 2010 (10:00 am – Noon, MST). N.p.: WAFWA. minutes11092010.pdf (accessed July 11, 2012).

Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). 2011. WAFWA Wild Sheep Working Group Winter Meeting (1:00 – 5:00 PM: February  8, 2011; 8:00 AM – Noon: February 9, 2011, Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Room #A6). N.p.: WAFWA. http://www. (accessed July 11, 2012).