BILLINGS, MT–The Helle Family has been a cornerstone to the ranching community in Southwestern Montana for four generations. And through these past 40 plus years, this Dillon ranching family has utilized both private and public lands to run their livestock which is primarily sheep.
But now their long-time Forest Service grazing permits have come under attack by the Gallatin Wildlife Association, an environmental group located in Bozeman, MT.
The Gallatin Wildlife Association wants the Helle domestic sheep off of the public land and has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prohibit domestic sheep grazing on two allotments in the Gravelly Mountains of southwest Montana. The group alleges the Forest Service is violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest Management Act because the presence of domestic sheep is preventing the return of bighorn sheep to the area. The Gallatin Wildlife Association is now pursuing an injunction to prevent, what they say, is irreparable harm to the grizzly bears and bighorn sheep.
According the article in the Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/1FmQQ1A) Helle initially opposed the reintroduction of bighorn sheep anywhere near his domestic herd over concerns of the wild bighorns interbreeding with his sheep. However Helle was able to later come to an agreement with the Forest Service and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks allowing reintroduction of bighorn sheep in the nearby Greenhorn mountains. The agencies agreed not to force changes to the Helles’ grazing operations without their consent, and allowed for the killing of any bighorn sheep that came within a quarter-mile of his sheep.
Under this agreement, nearly 8,000 domestic sheep graze in the heart of the Gravelly Mountains, set to begin first part of July. If the Gallatin Wildlife Association is successful in their lawsuit, Helle's main concern becomes where is he supposed to go with 8,000 sheep in a couple weeks?
While Helle expect the US Forest Service to stand firm on their policy for the time being, but he is worried about the Judge’s decision on the proposed injunction on grazing.
This week the Northern Ag Network’s Russell Nemetz talked with John Helle about the lawsuit and it’s impact not just on his family but wildlife and the environment.
Helle also explained the status of the lawsuit.
Helle says a lawsuit like this one also affects a lot more people then just his family.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been produced showing the support by the Helle Family of the reintroduction of bighorn sheep into the Greenhorn mountains. It also allows the Grazing Permitees permission to trail and graze sheep on public land in the Snowcrest and Gravelly Mountain ranges.
To read a copy of the MOU see below
Source: Helle Livestock and Northern Ag Network
© Northern Ag Network 2015
image used from the Helle Rambouillet website