This week, three activist groups filed a motion in federal district court seeking to halt domestic sheep grazing on three allotments in the Payette National Forest to protect bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon.
In 2010, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) agreed to phase in the closure of hundreds of thousands of acres of public land to grazing to reduce contact between domestic and wild sheep.
However, because of language included in a rider on the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, domestic sheep grazing will continue in 2012. The rider, inserted by Rep. Mike Simpson (Idaho), precludes the use of federal funds for management restrictions on domestic sheep on USFS lands in excess of the management restrictions that existed on July 1, 2011.
The activist groups are saying the Payette Decision was finalized in 2010 and the management restrictions were already in place well before the rider's deadline.
In a separate lawsuit, an activist group filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to force the USFS to separate domesticated sheep from a small herd of wild bighorn sheep in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The lawsuit renews an eight-year-old fight over whether special protection should be provided for the 50 or so bighorn sheep in the Sierra Madre Range near Encampment, Wyo.
American Sheep Industry Association Executive Peter Orwick remarked that these suits filed by activists are exactly why the U.S. Congress approved the language on wild sheep and domestic grazing in 2011.
"Sheep are hunted in both states and are not listed as threatened or endangered species, plus each state's fish and game authority has already addressed management practices and management of the wild sheep in question," concluded Orwick.