Legislative bills appropriating federal funding for this fiscal year are moving through the congressional process, and two of them have particular importance to the U.S. sheep industry.
Agriculture funding has been approved by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and is now being negotiated for differences between the two versions.
"Key topics, such as Wildlife Services, have the same increase in operations funding for livestock in both versions demonstrating the strong support for livestock protection," stated Peter Orwick, executive director for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). "The bill would provide $4 million in operations beyond the President's budget."
The Interior Appropriations, which funds the Environmental Protection Agency and land management agencies, is also critical to the sheep industry but more in terms of what would not be funded over what is provided for in the funding.
"Rep. Mike Simpson (Idaho), chairman of the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, sponsored language with Reps. Rob Bishop (Utah) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) to halt the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from actions on bighorn sheep that would result in reducing domestic sheep grazing on public lands for five years," continued Orwick. "This is a "time out provision" designed to address the litigation being brought forward by the Western Watersheds Project, an anti-livestock group that sued to keep several sheep ranchers from grazing mountains in Idaho.
"The action is necessary to provide industry and researchers the necessary time to finalize the implementation of promising vaccines to address disease issues, as well as strategies to implement best management practices to promote the coexistence of both species of sheep," said Orwick.
The Interior bill in the Senate is not yet scheduled for action; however, it is expected this fall. The sheep industry is fully in support of retaining the House language in the Senate version.
"The U.S. Forest Service mapped over 23 million acres of wild sheep habitat of which 1 million acres overlap domestic sheep grazing allotments," said Orwick. "Even though domestic sheep grazing is less than 5 percent of the habitat, the loss of those sheep operations would eliminate nearly one-fourth of all lamb and wool production in America!"
Superior Farms of Davis, Calif., this week wrote letters to senators in the states where it operates asking for support of the House language in the Senate bill.
"Superior relayed exactly why this issue with sheep grazing and wild sheep habitat is important to all lamb and wool companies as well as to sheep producers nationwide," added Orwick. "Loss of one-fourth of all U.S. lamb and wool threatens the entire sheep industry and all related businesses. The supply of lambs to markets and to companies buying and processing lamb and wool will reduce sharply if more than 20 percent of our production were eliminated."
ASI encourages the industry to continue to contact their senators to show assistance to Interior Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) to support language similar to the House.
In related action, the entire membership of the sheep industry will receive a special solicitation in early November to fund the very promising wild sheep vaccine research and to assist the state sheep associations as they defend domestic sheep grazing.