SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah wildlife officials have approved a plan to let loose about 50 desert bighorn sheep this fall in a southern Utah mountain range despite concerns from woolgrowers who fear the plan could have negative effects on the domestic sheep they manage.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is planning to release the bighorn sheep in the Mineral Mountains in Beaver County with a goal of building a herd of 175 animals, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday.
Woolgrowers have objected to the plan, citing fears that the presence of wild sheep could push domestic sheep off public lands. The woolgrowers fear that a federal judge could order their flocks to be moved if wild sheep contract diseases from the domestic animals.
“They are setting a nuclear bomb right in the middle of us and saying we’ll hide the button,” woolgrower Scott Stubbs told the Utah Wildlife Board last week. “I don’t think you can hide the button from the environmental movement.”
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The wildlife division intends to keep the wild sheep away from the wool-growing operations and will use lethal removal if required, division director Mike Fowlks said.
“If those sheep leave the core area and get into domestics, they are going to die,” Fowlks told ranchers at the Salt Lake City meeting.
The division has not had problems in its 40 years of transplanting wild sheep, Fowlks said. Wild sheep were released in the Oak Creek Mountains north of the Mineral Mountains five years ago, he said.
The new group of wild sheep will be released near Granite Peak, the mountain range’s highest point, said Jace Taylor, a coordinator for the division’s bighorn sheep and mountain goat programs.
“They will go where they feel safe and that’s why they want steep, rocky escape terrain,” Taylor said.
Woolgrower Kendall Benson said the wild the sheep are nomadic and the concerns he and others have are not being addressed.
“It’s about my livelihood; it’s about other people’s livelihood when these sheep don’t stay within the determined boundary on a map,” Benson said.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com