Stakeholder Committee Formed to Draft Sheep Station Defense

Stakeholder Committee Formed to Draft Sheep Station Defense

The University of Idaho (UI) and various key players in the sheep industry have formed a committee to once again help keep open the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station.

Don Thill, of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, said the committee includes representatives from UI, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Wool Growers, Idaho’s congressional delegation and several other groups.

Thill noted that the group formed a 10-member subcommittee to draft a document to present to Congress, highlighting the importance of the station. It’s an approach similar to the one taken last summer after USDA officials announced plans to close the facility. ASI and other industry groups sent letters to USDA’s Agriculture Research Services(ARS), explaining the value and benefits of the Sheep Station.

Peter Orwick, ASI’s executive director,  said he believes lawsuits against the facility by the conservation group Western Watersheds Project played a significant role in USDA’s decision to seek the closure.

In late 2014, USDA announced that it would not close the Sheep Station during the fiscal year 2015. However, “sheep production research as Dubois is proposed to be moved to the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Neb., to take advantage of the current research infrastructure at MARC in genetics, genomics, nutrition and reproduction,” Catherine Woteki, USDA under-secretary, noted. And a proposal included in the new federal budget requests to close the Dubois facility in Fiscal Year 2016. 

Sheep producers continue to campaign against the closure.

“This Experiment Station has 90 years of sheep and range research data available,” said Greg Wichman, a Montana producer and president of the  Montana Wool Growers Association. “This station has the ability to provide research on how sage grouse, grizzlies, bighorn sheep and other wildlife react to livestock grazing, As producers, we can get independent, on-the-ground research from them to debunk what the environmentalists are saying.”

As for the newly-formed committee, Thill said it was slated to review a draft of its report on Feb. 23. The final report will be used by UI and other land-grant universities when they meet with members of Congress and federal agencies in Washington later this month.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and US. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, have worked together in Congress on the issue. 
ASI will lead a team from the U.S. sheep industry in Washington March 23-25 to discuss the Sheep Station and other issues. 
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