The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently looking for public comments on a plan to designate 417,000 acres of the Sierra Nevada as critical habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep
This critical habitat designation goes along with the listing of the Sierra bighorns as an endangered species in 2000, but it took a lawsuit from the environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, to spur the federal government to create this critical habitat designation.
Whenever the feds declare a new land use designation, there is always the question of who is going to get shut out of where.
When we spoke with Bob Williams with the Fish and Wildlife Service, he said that the critical habitat designation doesnt directly affect anybody.
Since they can spread disease to the bighorns, Williams explained that domestic sheep are probably the greatest threat to the endangered species. He says that many of the grazing allotments have already been closed prior to this proposed designation.
With much of the area in question already designated wilderness, off roaders may be off the hook. The critical habitat document does specify rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, ski touring, and hiking as potential recreational threats to the species.
When we spoke to local bighorn expert John Wehausen, he explained that the critical habitat was a minor bureaucratic change that wont result in much. Wehausen says that there is no indication that there will be any new restrictions on recreation.
Wehausen says that the agencies cant just eliminate people without doing research and that so far there is little evidence that human recreational activity actually is detrimental to the Bighorn herds.
Areas that have been restricted like the Bighorn Zoological Areas near Baxter Pass and Mt. Williamson could be opened in the future, according to Wehausen.
To read this proposed critical habitat document yourself, go to the United State Fish and Wildlife Serivce website at fws.gov. The public comment period ends September 24.