The acres available for domestic sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest will be reduced by nearly 70 percent according to Payette Supervisor Suzanne Rainville who issued a record of decision this week. It will cost four sheep ranchers at least half if not all of their grazing rights on that forest and affects thousands of domestic sheep. This decision follows years of federal court rulings sought by the anti-livestock group Western Watersheds Project.
The decision will result in the number of acres where domestic sheep will be allowed to graze to shrink from about 100,000 acres to just over 31,500 acres in three years. According to a Forest Service analysis, the grazing reductions could lead to the loss of 28 jobs.
"This decision is obviously devastating to sheep production in Idaho and to the producers that are going to be affected by this result. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Payette Forest finding that is going to protect the bighorn sheep," commented Ken Wixom, president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association. "If this issue were truly about the protection of the bighorn, they would not take those who have the highest level of incentive to help resolve the problem off the forest and out of the equation."
Payette Forest officials contend this move will balance uses, protect bighorns, honor tribal rights and live up to federal law.
Groups seeking to remove all livestock grazing from federal lands are using bighorn sheep habitat as a surrogate to remove domestic sheep grazing allotments from the forest.
The record of the decision and the final environmental impact statement are posted www.fs.fed.us/r4/payette/publications/big_horn/index.shtml.