Local lawmakers oppose proposed bighorn sheep bill for Sweetwater Rocks

    The Wyoming Senate has passed a legislative proposal providing “protections” against the “potential threat” local livestock grazers could face if bighorn sheep were introduced to the Sweetwater Rocks area.

    The threat stems from a new Bureau of Land Management rule that “gives great deference to bighorn sheep,” to the detriment of domestic livestock grazers, Wyoming Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said when Senate File 118 was introduced on the Senate floor last month.

    The new BLM rule could “potentially jeopardize federal land permittees (and) grazers if, in fact, we move forward with introduction of sheep in the Sweetwater Rocks,” Hicks explained.


    “That’s the issue … we’re trying to address,” he told the Senate. “(We) need to afford protections to those permittees and those private land grazers out there that this will not be used as a cudgel or a bludgeon for third-party radical litigants that have no other objective other than to get rid of public land grazing.”


    SF 118 requires the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to relocate or remove bighorn sheep from the Sweetwater Rocks area “if any federal judicial action or federal agency action requires or could require (the) elimination or suspension of domestic sheep grazing or trailing.”

    The bill was referred to the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, where Hicks clarified that there are not currently any domestic sheep grazing allotments in the Sweetwater Rocks area.

    Domestic sheep grazing allotments do exist “directly adjacent” to that area, however – in fact, that is the “impetus” for the bill, Hicks said, noting that bighorns could “foray” into one of those allotments and prompt the federal government to “take action.”


    Those forays could occur even if bighorn sheep aren’t officially introduced to the Sweetwater Rocks, WGFD director Brian Nesvik said, pointing out that the animals are already present in an area farther to the south.

    “This bill … provides durable, predictable assurances (and) a tool for the department if sheep were to be reintroduced, or if they were to end up there on their own,” he said.


    Representatives from the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation spoke in favor of SF 118 last month, but other groups, like the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation expressed concerns.


    “Our organization opposes this bill,” WFBF executive vice president Ken Hamilton told the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. “We’ve got landowners in that area that are concerned about what this will bring to them, what the impacts will be to their federal grazing.”

    He suggested an amendment to SF 118 barring the reintroduction of bighorn sheep to Sweetwater Rocks until the federal government conforms to state law governing the management of the animals.

    The proposed amendment would be a “poison pill” for SF 118, Hicks said, adding that the bill provides protection for livestock grazing permittees against “onerous” federal regulations.


    Local lawmakers

    The House Travel Committee did not include Hamilton’s proposed amendment in SF 118 last week, but a similar change was passed on the House floor on Tuesday.

    The amendment says SF 118 would only come into effect if “federal law has been enacted that aligns with the purpose of this act.”

    Wyoming Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Lander, spoke in favor of the change, citing “outreach” from her constituents who told her they have “real concerns” about the impacts SF 118 could have on their grazing allotments.

    “What are we actually gaining from this?” Penn asked. “I don’t see a lot of benefit for the potential risks that we’re facing here.”

    Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, said she has also been contacted by area ranchers who “expressed concern and, in the end, opposition” to SF 118.

    “This one’s tough for me,” Oakley said. “I love bighorn sheep. I agree that they’re a majestic animal, and I support their thriving. But … there are still difficulties in this.”

    Fremont County will be “gravely affected” by SF 118, Wyoming Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, said, asking for a “no” vote on the bill.

    “This is not a good idea for many people,” Ottman said. “The ranchers … in my area are very concerned.”

    Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, said he has also heard “loud and clear” from his constituents in Jeffrey City that he should vote “no” on the bill.

    Salazar and Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, were the only senators to vote against SF 118 when it was introduced in the Senate.

    They also voted “no” on third reading, as did two other senators, including Wyoming Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep.

    Wyoming Rep. John Winter, R-Thermoplis, voted in favor of SF 118 as a member of the House Travel Committee, and Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, voted “yes” as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, according to the bill digest.

    SF 118 was scheduled for second reading in the House on Wednesday.


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