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Grizzly Bears to Benefit From Closing Costly, Anachronistic Federal Sheep Station in Idaho

July 8, 2014
Bryan Bird (505) 699-4719
In This Release

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Grizzly Bears to Benefit From Closing Costly, Anachronistic Federal Sheep Station in Idaho

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Asked to Follow Through With June Proposal to Close 99-year-old USDA Facility
Contact: Bryan Bird (505) 699-4719

Additional Contacts:

Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, michaelr@biologicaldiversity.org, (575) 313-7017

John Meyer, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, John@Cottonwoodlaw.org, (406) 587-5800

Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project, travis@westernwatersheds.org, (208) 788-2290

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo.— Conservation groups sent a letter toAgriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack today urging him not only to followthrough on his proposal to close the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SheepExperiment Station, west of Yellowstone, but to permanently end sheep grazingon more than 50,000 additional acres of public lands that provide importanthabitat corridors between the national park and Idaho for lynx, wolves andgrizzly bears.

“We fully stand by Secretary Vilsack’s decision to shutter the sheepstation,” Said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director for WildEarthGuardians. “It a relic of federal government subsidies for the livestockindustry and the majority of Americans value Western public lands for wildlifeand recreation not as a feed lot for a fading industry.”

As part of the plan, the organizations asked that the sheep station’s48,000 acres be transferred to the nearby Red Rock Lakes National WildlifeRefuge, and that an additional 56,000 acres grazed by the station on ForestService and Bureau of Land Management lands be permanently closed to livestock.

“This is great news for Yellowstone’s beleaguered wildlife,” said Michael Robinson of the Center forBiological Diversity. “Closing this anachronistic and wasteful USDAfacility will provide safer habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, bighorn sheepand other sensitive animals that are part of the fabric of our nationalidentity.”

The Sheep Experiment Station was founded in 1915,during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, to conduct research aidingthe sheep industry. But as noted in Secretary Vilsack’s decision letter, “theunit no longer has the critical mass of scientists.” Furthermore, the sheepstation had conducted no environmental review of its activities, as the 1970National Environmental Policy Act requires for all major federal activities,until it was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western WatershedsProject in 2007. Since that lawsuit was settled in 2008, the sheep station hasmissed multiple deadlines to document its effects on wildlife, even as otherfederal and state agencies repeatedly expressed concerns with those impacts.

“The livestock industry needs toface the fact that times have changed,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Directorof Western Watersheds Project. “The American public values wildlife corridorsand ecological function over economically irresponsible government sheep‘experiments.’ We applaud Secretary Vilsack’s decision and hope he will standstrong in the face of special interest pressure to reconsider.”

The sheep station grazes its namesake livestock close to the world’slargest aggregation of bighorn sheep, which are at risk from diseases spread bytheir domestic counterparts.

The sheep station also isolates genetically lynx, wolves and grizzlybears in Yellowstone National Park, because the station includes lands such asthe Centennial Mountains that form a corridor of habitat between Yellowstoneand the wildlands of central Idaho. In 2009 another branch of the USDA,Wildlife Services, killed the eight-member Sage Creek Pack of wolves due todepredations that began with the killing of a single sheep from the sheepstation.

In 2012 a radio-collared grizzly bear disappeared, and his cut-offcollar was later found lodged under a rock in a stream flowing through the sheepstation. Telemetry data and a law-enforcement report revealed that the bear andsheep were in the same place at the same time, and an empty .308-caliber riflecartridge, which matches the rifles issued to the sheepherders, was recoveredfrom the sheepherders’ camp. The report also says that sheepherders killed twoblack bears in the same area in 2012.

Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarthGuardians and Gallatin Wildlife Association filed a lawsuit in June challengingthe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the sheep station,which erroneously states that no grizzly bear/human encounters have occurred.The groups have documents released through a Freedom of Information Act requestthat state grizzly bears have chased sheep herders in the past.

“There is no amount of sheep research that can justify putting humanlives at risk,” said John Meyer of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center.

WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, CottonwoodEnvironmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, Gallatin WildlifeAssociation and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation, signed today’s letter to thesecretary of agriculture.

Other Contact
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, michaelr@biologicaldiversity.org, (575) 313-7017
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