Sheep grazing will continue at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) in eastern Idaho with the exception of two parcels until the completion of the environmental impact statement (EIS), which is expected by March 2012. This was the decision announced by Andrew Hammond, Ph.D., pacific west area director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural (USDA) Research Service (ARS).
In November 2008, Hammond signed the Decision Notice for the Interim USSES Grazing and Associated Activities Project Environmental Assessment, allowing for historic and ongoing grazing operations through March 2010, the time estimated to prepare a longer term environmental assessment.
On Sept. 21, 2009, the Yellowstone grizzly bear was declared a threatened population under the Endangered Species Act. At the time of the delisting, USSES was in the process of preparing an environmental assessment on sheep grazing on ARS lands in Idaho and Montana. Because of the changed legal status of the Greater Yellowstone Area grizzly population, the USSES has halted its work on the draft environmental assessment and will instead prepare an EIS to assess the effects of historic and ongoing grazing and associated activities at USSES.
To maintain USSES's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act during the preparation of the EIS, a new interim decision on sheep grazing has been issued. The proposed action is to continue the ongoing grazing and research activities with the current herd levels but to cease grazing on the Meyers Creek Forest Service allotment, which is within the Primary Conservation Area for the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population, and the adjacent USSES summer East Range lands. The grazing that previously occurred on these two parcels will be moved to the USSES summer West Range lands without causing any significant impact to those lands from the alteration in grazing activities. This action will allow USSES to continue to achieve most of its research goals and objectives while also addressing the changed legal status of the grizzly gear.
The work done by USSES on the draft environmental assessment and the comments received on that document during the Dec. 14, 2009 - Jan. 25, 2010, comment period will be incorporated into the EIS process.
The American Sheep Industry Association is disappointed in the ARS' announcement since it lacks legitimate reasoning. The process at the USDA in forming and announcing this decision is subject to criticism as well, so the association is following up with USDA officials to clarify the situation. ASI fully supports the work done by USSES. Since its establishment in 1918, USSES has been instrumental to the sheep industry in the areas of sheep breed development, evaluation and improvement as well as reproductive efficiency. Also an important focus at USSES, spanning 90 years, has been its rangelands and range nutrition research.