ACTIVITIES: Wild Utah Project and our partner, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection have acted to assemble a larger coalition to work together with U.S Forest Service biologists to, based on best available scientific evidence, reduce sheep stocking rates on these sheep grazing allotments, in order to maintain and improve the surrounding watershed.
We are working to inform the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process in development for the High Uintas Wilderness Domestic Sheep Analysis Project and Grazing Permit Reauthorization. Through the combined use of GIS mapping, data analysis, and literature review we are supporting USFS biologists in their planning process for and informed decisions on reductions (or removal) of domestic sheep from grazing allotments in Wilderness areas. A critical element of our submission includes a GIS-based capability model that will analyze pounds/acre of grass and forb forage biomass available in each allotment, and allows for a calculation of stocking rate recommendations based on what the native ecology has the potential to support.
High Uintas Forage Analysis
PURPOSE AND NEED: The High Uinta Mountains cover over 456,700 acres and stretch nearly 60 miles east to west and are jointly managed by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests. The High Uintas Wilderness Area permits the grazing of almost 30,000 domestic sheep on 11 sheep grazing allotments (approximately 150,000 acres), which are shown to be having damaging effects on the watershed. The Uintas are a major water supply for much of Utah. As the upper basins of the Wilderness Area are grazed, decreased water retention during snowmelt and storms leads to extreme flood events consequently, decreasing the likelihood of beaver dam development or maintenance (which would help control flows, bank erosion, and sedimentation, as well as, raise water tables) in the main streams where the watersheds are heavily grazed. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep populations in the Wilderness Area could also stand to benefit from reduced domestic sheep grazing rates. The fact that domestic sheep can readily transmit lethal diseases to bighorn populations has been definitively established in the literature, and we have a small and struggling population on the east side of the Uinta Range that has yet to successfully occupy the western portion of it's historic distribution in the area.
GOAL: The current grazing permit reauthorization process presents an opportunity to reduce a major source of degradation to Utah’s largest designated Wilderness, local water supplies, and habitats of many native species, one of which is the bighorn sheep grazing, which stands to be most negatively impacted by domestic sheep as populations are reduced across it's native/historic range. By providing a science based, GIS forage capacity model and working with USFS biologists and managers, it is our goal to re-tool sheep stocking rates for the current grazing permit authorization renewal process.