A pathway to new restrictions in the High Sierra or a minor bureaucratic change? With a new Critical Habitat designation for Sierra bighorn sheep in the pipeline, US Fish and Wildlife Service officials traveled to Bishop recently to hear public comments. They were not disappointed.
Inyo Supervisors Jim Bilyeu and Linda Arcularius, along with Inyo/Mono Agricultural Commissioner George Milovich stood up to submit their official comments on the effects of the big horn Critical Habitat on agriculture, mostly grazing sheep.
Over 400,000 acres of critical habitat designation are slated for the High Sierra. With most of the land in question already designated wilderness, sheep grazing has been curtailed since the bighorn recovery effort started years ago. The scientists that work on Sierra big horn sheep recovery believe that domestic sheep can spread a strain of pneumonia that is fatal to the big horns.
As Mono Supervisor Hap Hazard commented, only a small portion of the critical habitat contains active sheep grazing. He asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave these last grazing areas out of the critical habitat.
Like turning in a late homework assignment, it appears that this critical habitat designation was created belatedly because of a lawsuit. The critical habitat was supposed to go hand in hand with the listing of the Sierra big horn sheep as an endangered species in 2000, but it took a lawsuit to force the US Fish and Wildlife Service to actually designate the habitat.
What this designation means is uncertain. Fish and Wildlife officials that we spoke to described the critical habitat as a minor bureaucratic change. Others who commented on the plan were leery of one more layer of bureaucracy.
One Lone Pine resident said that she thought that in the future the critical habitat designation would simply become a reason for federal land managers to say no to any activity that they didnt like.
The public comment period for this proposed critical habitat designation ends on November 23. To submit comments go to the US Fish and Wildlife service website or call Bob Williams with the Fish and Wildlife Service at 775-861-6300.