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Bighorns versus cattle

January 8, 2010 |  3:32 pm

Bighorn

A rare Southern California butterfly and desert bighorn sheep have won a round in their contest for territory in the San Jacinto Mountains.

National forest officials are rethinking the extent of cattle grazing on 51,000 acres in the San Jacintos that include habitat for the endangered quino checkerspot butterfly and the Peninsular bighorn sheep.

In response to appeals by environmental groups, the U.S. Forest Service withdrew one decision and reversed another involving the renewal of grazing allotments on San Bernardino National Forest lands.

Environmentalists are negotiating with forest officials to keep cattle out of areas important to the two endangered species.

"The Forest Service has been very willing to talk to us about how these projects can move forward,” said Michael Connor of the Western Watersheds Project. He added that he expected the San Bernardino Forest supervisor to issue new decisions on the grazing permits, which involve no more than 100 cattle.

The cattle compete with the bighorns for forage. They eat and trample plants used by the small butterfly, which is checkered with dark brown, reddish and yellowish spots.

Abundant in San Diego, Orange, and western Riverside counties during the early part of the 20th century, the quino is now found in scattered populations in southwestern Riverside and north-central San Diego counties.

Peninsular sheep, a distinct population of desert bighorns, have declined dramatically in recent decades due to habitat loss and disease.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year slashed the amount of acreage classified as critical habitat for both species as a result of lawsuits challenging the habitat designations.

-- Bettina Boxall

Image credit: Dugald Stermer / For The Times 

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