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Sheep Station Sued Again for Threats to Wildlife in Centennial Mountains
“The Sheep Station is over 100 years old, and has outlived its purpose,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. “Rather than supporting useful research, the true purpose of this seems to be a political handout for the sheep industry at the expense of the American public, who clearly prefer wildlife over domestic livestock on public lands.”
The Sheep Station has been repeatedly sued for failing to comply with federal environmental laws. The latest case challenges the Sheep Station’s July 2018 decision to continue grazing domestic sheep in sensitive wildlife habitats, despite an insufficient environmental analysis that disregards the high risk of disease transmission domestic sheep pose to wild bighorns. Domestic sheep carry a pathogen that is easily transmitted to wild bighorn and results in the decimation of bighorn herds. The Idaho federal court recognized this risk in 2017 in a prior case by the conservation groups, which closed two of the Sheep Station’s grazing allotments due to the high risk of disease transmission to the South Beaverhead wild bighorn sheep herd.
“After just being handed a scalding decision from a federal judge, you would think the USDA would be on their toes and do all they can to prevent disease transmission to the South Beaverhead and other bighorn sheep herds,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians. “But instead of addressing the problem, the USDA doubled down on business-as-usual and completely failed to provide the necessary protections and environmental analysis that the court expects and the wildlife need.”
The Sheep Station also failed to acknowledge the likely adverse impacts of the sheep grazing on grizzly bears. In 2012, a male grizzly was illegally killed on Sheep Experiment Station grazing lands, and its radio-collar was found stuffed under a log in a streambed. Grizzly bears were put back on the Endangered Species list in 2018 under court order.
“There’s no real need for USDA and the University of Idaho to operate the Sheep Station on Forest Service lands at taxpayer expense and at such peril to wildlife,” said Laird Lucas, Executive Director of Advocates for the West, and lead attorney for the groups. “The Sheep Station is ignoring decades of science and court opinions in insisting that its grazing operations do not threaten imperiled species including bighorn sheep, grizzly bears and sage-grouse. We unfortunately have to sue again to force the Sheep Station to obey the law – and fully disclose the harmful impacts of its operations.”