Montana Ag Network: Ranching family fighting to solve grazing conflict with big horn sheep

Posted at 7:26 AM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 09:26:30-04

The Helle family in southwestern Montana has been raising high-quality sheep and wool for generations but now, conflicts with wildlife are threatening their way of life.

The issue at hand is grazing conflicts between the family’s domestic sheep and wild bighorn sheep.

“Well, we didn’t think we had a bighorn sheep issue,” said John Helle. “We worked with the wildlife people, sportsmen, we got a reintroduction to take place out here, so we didn’t think we had a working relationship, didn’t have an issue, but we ended up in court."

"We had an adverse decision by a judge who said we didn’t do the NEPA process right. But now, the Forest Service went in and did the NEPA process wrong and I received a notice from my attorney that they’ve appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the part that they did lose. It’s really strange to me because I really don’t think we had an issue," Helle added.

The U.S. sheep industry has been working on this issue for years. Helle explains where the industry goes from here and what they’re doing to find a workable solution.

“I think we have some opportunities to have some help from Congress,” said Helle. “But I think that might be a band-aid approach. What we need to do is build relationships. We need to manage wildlife, manage our resources, our federal lands more from a local area," Helle told MTN News.

"The Montana Wild Sheep Foundation and the Montana Wool growers, we’ve had some rocky roads, but we’ve been working together. And we’re trying to help bring aspects of disease research and all the different things. We tend to focus on one small problem when it’s the big picture," Helle said.

The Helle family isn’t fighting this issue alone. Others in surrounding states are also facing this same issue which is a top priority for the American Sheep Industry Association and state affiliates like the Montana Wool Growers Association.