June 15, 2012
This week, the Bureau of Land Management announced its decision to immediately terminate its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) United States Sheep Experiment Station (USSES). The MOU, which expires in December, allowed USSES to graze domestic sheep on the Bernice allotment near Howe, Idaho.
In a letter from Jeremy Casterson, field manager at the Upper Snake Field Office (USFO), to Andrew Hammond, area director for USDA, ARS, Pacific West Area, Casterson states, "The risk of direct contact between domestic and bighorn sheep is relatively high in this allotment as the timing of domestic sheep use between Nov. 23 and Feb. 5 directly overlaps with the winter habitat use by bighorn sheep in the lower elevations.
"The impact of domestic sheep grazing in the Bernice Allotment was reviewed in an Environmental Assessment (EA) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act in 1999. Since that time, additional information regarding bighorn sheep use and movements within the area has been collected. Further, additional research has been conducted relative to disease transmission between domestic and wild sheep. While there is no expiration date relative to the previous EA, the availability of new, previously unconsidered information regarding bighorn sheep, both general and site-specific, would indicate that the level of analysis in the previous EA may now be considered outdated," the letter stated.
The USFO is currently updating its land use planning documents and will issue an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the near future. No domestic sheep grazing will be authorized in the Bernice Allotment until completion of the USFO land use planning document and related EIS.
Peter Orwick, American Sheep Industry Association executive director, remarked, "This appears to be fully in violation of the congressional prohibition on the reduction of sheep grazing because of wild sheep. The USSES absolutely values the use of this allotment for existing research and management practices conducted by the station including the use of herders."