Sheep ranchers in Idaho and other states are suing the U.S. Forest Service over a bighorn sheep protection plan that reduces domestic grazing in the Payette National Forest.
The Idaho Wool Growers Association, joined by individual ranchers and industry groups from other Western states, filed the lawsuit in Boise’s U.S. District Court last week. The lawsuit targets the 2010 grazing reduction plan, which is predicated on the idea that bighorn sheep contract pneumonia when they come into contact with domestic sheep.
Sheep ranchers contend the federal agency failed to consider several key issues when it created the plan, including whether disease is transmitted between bighorn and domestic sheep, the effect reintroduced wolves have had on bighorns, and if there are ways to increase bighorn sheep immunity to domestic diseases.
The plaintiffs also contend that the plan is misguided and that the Forest Service wrongly used conclusions from a panel of experts on bighorn disease that a federal judge had previously thrown out. They want a judge to find that the grazing reduction plan violates several federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act.
The grazing reduction plan, which bars ranchers from grazing their sheep in areas used by bighorn sheep, has been contentious since it was first announced. Some ranchers have complained it will put them out of business, and industry groups fear the plan will be used as a model in other national forests across the Western United States.
Last December, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, of Idaho, introduced a measure into Congress that would keep 7,700 acres open to domestic sheep for another year. But he pulled the measure after a judge sided with environmentalists who sued to keep the Forest Service from using the measure to block the closures.
In June, Simpson introduced a new measure designed to counteract the ruling but again backed off, saying he wanted to schedule round-table talks between ranchers and wild sheep advocates. (AP)