Appropriations Bills Address Sheep Industry Priorities

In a move toward restoring regular order in the Congressional budget process, this week and last the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees and committees have begun marking up and approving key spending bills for the sheep industry.

Last week, the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee approved a Fiscal Year 2018 spending bill that preserves the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, and gives direction encouraging USDA's Agricultural Research Service to hire the two vacant positions at the station to help maintain important rangeland research. The work of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station is critical to the sheep industry. The station's historical sage grouse range data is unparalleled.

Recognizing the challenges of infectious disease, the House committee encouraged the USDA Agricultural Research Service to continue to peruse work on bighorn sheep respiratory disease and develop methods to reduce pathogen transmission and enhance immunity in domestic and wild sheep. The House bill also maintains USDA Wildlife Services damage management and methods development funding at 2017 levels, preserving the effectiveness of that program for the nation's sheep producers.

Moreover, it supports USDA Foreign Agricultural Services by fully funding Market Access and Foreign Market Development programs at the levels authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar funding bill again supporting agricultural research, foreign market development and wildlife damage control while cutting $352 million dollars from Fiscal Year 2017 spending levels.

The House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee, as well as the full House Appropriations Committee, also approved a funding bill for Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency that contains a number of priorities for the nation's sheep producers and federal lands grazers.

The bill reduces the Bureau of Land Management budget by $46 million, largely through a cut to funding for land acquisition and level funding of sage grouse conservation. It funds the U.S. Forest Service at $5.2 billion, nearly half of which is directed to wildland fire prevention and suppression.

At Fish and Wildlife Services, it prioritizes funding to reduce the Endangered Species Act backlog and fight invasive species, while prohibiting funding to treat gray wolves in the lower 48 as an endangered or threatened species. It also directs Fish and Wildlife to reissue the final rule to delist the wolf populations in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming within 60 days.

To ease the ongoing issue with the overpopulation of wild horses and burros on federal lands, the full House Appropriations Committee included an amendment from Rep. Christ Stewart (Utah) that provides expanded flexibility and tools for wild horse management. The amendment allows for wild horses and burros to be euthanized, but prohibits them from being used for human consumption. The American Sheep Industry Association supports a comprehensive program for humanely reducing the number of wild horses and burros on federal lands to appropriate management levels that are ecologically and economically sound.

The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has yet to mark up their spending bill. The bills still must pass the full House and Senate before going to the President's desk.