Governors Share Concern of FS Bighorn Plan
July 11, 2014

Governors C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho), Matt Mead (Wyo.) and Gary Herbert (Utah) shared their concerns in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) plan to implement a bighorn sheep and domestic sheep management framework in USFS Region 4. The USFS released a briefing paper in Feb. 2014 outlining its plan.

"The states of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming have three primary concerns with the plan for development of the management framework," the letter began.

The fact that the states do not have a role in the management of the framework was the first concern.

"It is imperative that the states be part of the process, and that a representative from each state's wildlife agency and department of agriculture be involved in developing the management plan," they stated.

The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) provides, in part, that "wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate species in the planning area."

"States such as Idaho, Utah and Wyoming have a critical role in managing wildlife within our respective borders. Unfortunately, USFS's interpretation and implementation of that component of the NFMA ignores the state's role," the Governors continued.

The final concern stressed that the alternative allotment analysis must be completed prior to any risk assessment.

"It is reasonable to assume that if the risk assessment is performed first, anti-grazing groups will immediately pressure USFS to close the allotments upon which the assessments were conducted. Once the allotments are closed, a National Environmental Policy Act analysis will need to be conducted in order to re-open those allotments for grazing. Such an analysis can take months if not years to complete. If producers are displaced as a result of the bighorn sheep risk assessment, they cannot wait years for alternative allotments to be analyzed. The burden on those displaced producers in that situation would be simply unreasonable."

In conclusion, the Governors stated, "Our states must have a seat at the table in any discussions regarding the management plan. Moreover, the process must take place in such a way as to ensure that displaced livestock producers are not barred from grazing for months or years due to the failure to conduct the alternative allotment analysis."

"This is another powerful letter to the federal land management agencies regarding the sheep industry," said Peter Orwick, American Sheep Industry Association executive director. "The industry greatly appreciates the effort of Govs. Otter, Mead and Herbert.

"Their requests are spot on and follow a bi-cameral letter signed by 37 U.S. Senators and Representatives earlier this month."

This letter and other documents pertaining to the bighorn sheep issue are available at www.sheepusa.org/IssuesPrograms_Issues_Bighorn.