Ag Secretary Proposes Closing Sheep Station
June 27, 2014

Last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced to Congress that he would close the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) U.S. Sheep Experimental Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho, within the year.

The Post-Register of Post Falls, Idaho, reported that Vilsack sent a letter to Rep. Robert Aderhold (Ala.) on June 17, saying that the station had become a liability. Aderhold is the chairman for the appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.

A prolonged period of declining and flat budgets has resulted in underfunded programs at (the sheep experiment station), and the unit no longer has the critical mass of scientists necessary to address high priority research, Vilsack said in the letter.

Vilsack's letter said the station would close Nov. 3. Congress has 30 days to react to Vilsack's decision.

American Sheep Industry Association President Clint Krebs, in a letter to ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Ph.D., expressed his disappointment with the agency's decision to close the sheep experiment station, as well as the processes by which the decision was made public.

"USSES has very unique datasets and capabilities that cannot be substituted elsewhere anytime soon including 90 years of pedigree data on major sheep breeds, three of which were developed at USSES; an ongoing 90-year history on vegetation in response to fire and grazing; and over 40 years of historical and ongoing data on the sage grouse with regards to fire in recovering sagebrush."

Western members of Congress, in a letter to Aderhold, have asked to stop the closure of USSES by disapproving ARS's request for reprogramming of funds from the sheep station in Dubois. Reprogramming of funds would result in closure of the facility.

Signing the letter were Reps. Mike Simpson (Idaho), Doc Hastings (Wash.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Steve Daines (Mont.) and Raul Labrador (Idaho).

"We were disappointed to learn that ARS has plans to close USSES in Dubois and frustrated that ARS did not notify Congress or the sheep industry until the decision had been made," Simpson said. "In our letter to Chairman Aderholt, we explain that closure of the Dubois Sheep Experiment Station would have a substantial impact on the western sheep industry and express our concern that people involved in the industry were not consulted before ARS made this decision."

"I was shocked to learn that USDA is attempting to close the Dubois Sheep Experiment Station without consulting western farmers and ranchers or having a plan to ensure the station's important research continues," Walden said. "No other station conducts research into the unique challenges that confront sheep producers in Oregon and across the west, like grazing techniques, diseases, or developing new breeds. That's why we are working hard with other western representatives to keep this station open so this innovative ag research can continue."

The Post Register article further quoted the foes of sheep grazing. "What Vilsack didn't say was that the sheep experiment station had also become a legal liability," said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. "Our repeated and successful litigation over the ecological impacts of the project surely influenced the decision to end the failing experiment once and for all. It's too bad they've waited this long."

USSES was established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson and has been grazing sheep on this land for nearly 100 years.

On another note, animal activist groups filed another lawsuit against the station this week that cites a lack of environmental studies on how grazing affects grizzly bears and lynx. The sheep station grazes sheep on the high mountain pastures from July through September. The lawsuit asked the judge to stop the station from putting sheep out to graze until the environmental study is completed. Studies often take years to complete.

The letters are posted to www.sheepusa.org at Issues and Programs and then Sheep Station.