June 15, 2012
A federal judge has ruled a three-year sheep grazing phase-out should continue this summer on three allotments in the Payette National Forest where concerns have been raised about domestic livestock passing diseases to wild sheep.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Wednesday that the allotments weren't covered by a legislative rider blocking the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from spending money in its current budget on grazing reductions planned after July 1, 2011.
The rider was introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (Idaho) on behalf of the sheep and wool industries.
A 2010 USFS management plan for the Payette called for a 68,718-acre reduction in sheep grazing on allotments near Hell's Canyon by 2013. The USFA closed 54,204 acres to grazing in the Payette in 2011 but decided against closing an additional 7,714 acres this year, based on the rider. The plan leaves 31,592 acres of Payette sheep allotments open to grazing after the phase-out.
Environmental activist groups sued the USFS, saying the phase-out predated Simpson's rider and should remain in effect. The USFS had tried to follow the rider's intent by not closing more land to grazing.
"Judge Winmill's decision did not follow congressional intent," said Nikki Watts, communications director for Simpson. "Congressman Simpson's provision was meant to freeze grazing as it currently existed, not as it was planned to be reduced by the forest."
Watts said Simpson hopes to strike a balance between grazing and wildlife preservation and disagrees with removing sheep from allotments before scientific evidence is available demonstrating any threat.
Winmill, who has yet to issue a written version of his decision, noted the Payette grazing phase-out plan predated the congressional deadline, according to sheep industry officials who attended the Boise hearing.
Reprinted in part from Capital Press