May 18, 2007
May 18, 2007 - In April of this year, a suit was filed in federal district court in Idaho against the U.S. Forest Service (FS) by several environmental groups in response to domestic sheep grazing permits issued on the Payette National Forest. The environmental groups are basing their suit on the risk of disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep and are targeting domestic sheep allotments within the Hells Canyon and Salmon River regions of the Payette and Nez Perce National Forests.
In November, 2006, the FS conducted a scientific panel discussion on the risk analysis of disease transmission. Panelists consisted of various professionals including biologists and veterinarians. At that time, the panel concluded that several management strategies should be implemented to prevent domestic and bighorn sheep contact. The environmental groups are using this conclusion as the motive to remove domestic sheep from grazing allotments while the sheep industry contends that although contact is generally perceived by regulatory authorities to be a risk factor in disease transmission, this is not proven.
Shortly after the suit was filed in April, the Idaho Wool Growers Association (IWGA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) joined forces to hire a law firm to file an amicus brief in support of the FS position.
Early in May, the court heard oral arguments on a temporary restraining order (TRO) on domestic sheep for this year's grazing season on six allotments. The judge issued his decision of the TRO Friday, May 11, 2007, and denied the plaintiff's (Western Watersheds Project, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and the Wilderness Society) request. While this is a victory for the domestic sheep industry, there are still many hurdles to overcome in this matter. The judge reserved his decision on the preliminary injunction (to end domestic sheep grazing on those allotments) until late summer. Also, the FS is reviewing the Annual Operating Instructions (AIO) to determine if a reduction in grazing will be made this summer.
This is an important issue for the IWGA and for PLC because of the implications disease transmission has for western sheep operations. Already, several thousand animal unit months have been lost to sheep grazing due to the perceived threat of disease transmission.
"Disease transmission has been a top priority for PLC and the U.S. sheep industry due to the potential threat it poses for western sheep production," said PLC executive director, Jeff Eisenberg.