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Bringing Back the Desert Bighorn in Utah



Doesn’t the desert sheep belong in Deseret?

Today, a conservation victory with a surprise hero…a multilevel-marketing company!

The Utah Division of Natural Resources (DWR) had a problem: They wanted to introduce what’s called a “nursery herd” for wild desert sheep, but they needed acreage and support. That support came from the Gary and Mary Young Family, founders of Young Living. Young Living is an essential-oil multilevel marketing company that has seen great success in the Deseret State, and the Young family is giving back. Here’s how the story unfolded.

Here’s why the DWR wanted to set up a nursery herd. This approach has been used successfully for bighorn sheep on Utah’s Antelope Island and Montana’s Wild Horse Island, and Texas and New Mexico for desert bighorns in the USA. Nursery herds have also been a key component of desert sheep restoration in Mexico, exemplified by WSF’s Mexico Initiative. The goal is to establish a protected, disease-free herd that will grow to the point of being able to supply animals for future restoration efforts in new suitable free-range habitats.

The Utah DWR found a willing partner in the Utah-based essential oil company, Young Living, on their Skyrider Wilderness Ranch by Hanna in Duchesne County. Eighteen hundred acres of the ranch will be set aside specifically for desert bighorns. Young Living co-founders D. Gary and Mary Young acquired Skyrider Wilderness Ranch in 2017.

“Trapping and transplanting is the most successful and fastest way to expand wild sheep populations back to their historical ranges, said Clay Brewer, the Wild Sheep Foundation‘s Conservation Director, and Bighorn Sheep Programs Lead. “The trouble is finding wild sheep stocks that have not been exposed to the diseases carried by domestic sheep and goats. There is no point introducing exposed sheep to unexposed populations or moving unhealthy sheep to establish new populations.”

The first trap and transplant to establish this new nursery herd is scheduled for June 2022 from healthy populations identified by the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

“Making wild sheep conservation work takes a village,” Brewer explained. “A special thank you needs to be made to Riley Peck, the once-in-a-lifetime species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, our agency partners in Utah and Nevada, our friends at Utah WSF, and Young Living for their willingness to use some of their lands for this historic conservation action.”

“This is the next major piece in the puzzle for desert bighorn conservation,” said Gray N. Thornton, President and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. “It’s forward, out-of-the-box thinking that will help clear a major hurdle in the continued efforts to restore and expand populations of this iconic species.”




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