After more than four hours of deliberation, the Mono County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to direct County staff not to issue a request for proposals for cattle or sheep grazing leases on Conway and Mattly Ranches. The current lease, held by F.I.M Corporation, is set to expire in November 2017. The Supervisors also directed staff to gather information about the potential sale of Conway and Mattly Ranches.
The Board of Supervisors received comment from over 100 individuals regarding the decision, and Supervisor Chambers in Bridgeport were packed for the hearing. The Mono Lake Committee, Friends of The Inyo, and Mono County 350 all encouraged members to write letters and give public comment against domestic sheep grazing at Conway and Mattly Ranches.
Erin Norden of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service gave a presentation on the history of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep (SNBS) populations in the region and the efforts taken to protect them. The species is listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act (1979).
Dr. Tom Stephenson of California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery program also presented maps of the Mt. Warren Herd’s documented range, consisting of data points where radio collar signals were recorded. One ram traveled very close to Conway and Mattly Ranches. According to Stephenson and Norden, there is extensive evidence that SNBC can contract pneumonia from coming into contact with domestic sheep, and one infected animal could spread the disease to an entire herd. “There are so few of these animals. We cannot afford to wipe out a herd and reintroduce it,” said Stevenson.
There was much debate over whether or not Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep can contract pneumonia from domestic sheep and whether or not the Mt. Warren herd of SNBC is viable. Conway Ranch does not fall within the historic range of SNBC, but it does fall just across Highway 395 from the species’ historic range, which includes Mattly Ranch.
Between 600 and 800 domestic sheep are grazed on Mattly Ranch for two weeks out of the year. They are grazed on Conway Ranch for three months out of the year. Currently, F.I.M. Corporation irrigates Conway Ranch, a practice that the county is not prepared to continue once the lease expires.