November 16, 2007
November 16, 2007 - A federal judge has decided not to allow a sheep rancher to use his traditional winter grazing permit, citing anti-livestock groups' concern over bighorn sheep.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled earlier this week that the risk of losing genetic diversity in native populations of bighorn herds in western Idaho outweighed the financial loss of $75,600 to the sheep rancher, who had planned to return the domestic sheep to the grazing allotment Thursday.
The U.S. Forest Service initially favored allowing domestic sheep grazing on the Allison-Berg Allotment on the Nez Perce National Forest, saying there was little chance of domestic sheep and bighorns meeting.
However, the Forest Service changed its position last week and banned the domestic herd this winter after the Nez Perce Tribe on Nov. 5 filed documents that showed numerous sightings of bighorns in or near the grazing allotment.
The sheep rancher, based in Weiser, Idaho, last week then asked Winmill to stay the Forest Service's decision, which he declined with Tuesday's ruling.
In his decision, Winmill noted that none of the experts on either side provided definitive proof on whether domestic sheep transmit fatal diseases to bighorns, marking one of the first times this admission has been made by a judge in the bighorn-domestic sheep conflict.
Last spring, the Payette National Forest eliminated sheep grazing on five allotments in Hells Canyon after the three environmental groups filed a lawsuit.
The allotment on the Nez Perce National Forest was a part of that lawsuit, but Winmill delayed making a decision on that portion of the lawsuit because domestic sheep weren't scheduled to graze there until this month. Reprinted in part from the Twin Falls Times-News, Idaho