Just north of Yellowstone, the bighorn sheep heard is slowly being wiped out by a Pneumonia epidemic. Many are sick, and 40% have already died from the disease. Scientists are now worried that pneumonia will make its way southward to Yellowstone National Park, but there is little that can be done to stop the spread.
The root of the disease is currently being researched, but most people are blaming a pasture of domestic sheep nearby to the bighorn heard. Research has shown that bighorn are easily infected by transmission from domestic sheep, and the nearby farm belongs to pasture owner Bill Hoppe. Hoppe has been an avid protester of policies in Yellowstone, and has even placed his domestic sheep on the boundary of the Park so to tempt the newly reintroduced wolves into causing a disturbance. There are currently no laws against Hoppe or any ranchers on where they are allowed to put their herds, as long as they are outside of Park boundaries.
The author of this article regards this infection of bighorn as a “lack of regard for the public” because it is threatening the first U.S. national park and because ranchers are taking up too much land. What used to be open and public lands are now taken over by livestock and are off-limits to the public. Ranches are becoming more prevalent in the western states as demands for livestock rise. Recently, Wyoming passed a law that declared it a felony for anyone to cross a private ranch and collect data in or outside of the area. The largest Montana ranch is behind most of the regulations, as it is with any aspect of American policy. It is assumed by the article author that “Ranching will not be satisfied until the public’s right to travel is limited to a few parks and main roads outside the cities.”
The political debate on ranching and public vs. private land have now become the main issues of this topic instead of what we should be focusing on: the spread of disease into a vital national park. This article is proof that politics often play a far too significant role in wildlife disease control and conservation of populations.
– Jenna Rindy
Article written by Ralph Maughan on March 27, 2015. Published in The Wildlife News.