Suit to Save Idaho’s Bighorn Sheep Filed In Federal Court

For immediate release – April 9, 2012
Contacts: Brian Ertz, Media Director Western Watersheds Project, 208.788.2290

Boise, ID- Today, Western Watersheds Project, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, and The Wilderness Society filed a motion in federal district court seeking to halt domestic sheep grazing on three allotments within the Payette National Forest. The conservation groups are seeking an order for the Forest Service to operate under its 2010 decision to phase in closure of hundreds of thousands of acres of public land to grazing to protect Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from fatal diseases transmitted by domestic sheep.

Despite the strong scientific basis for the earlier decision, the Forest Service has decided to ignore the grazing restrictions slated for 2012 because of language added to the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act which forbids the use of federal funds for, “[M]anagement restrictions on domestic sheep [on Forest Service lands] in excess of the management restrictions that existed on July 1, 2011.”

“The Forest Service is clearly mistaken. The Payette Decision has been in place for years, and the Forest Service notified the permittee of the grazing closures well in advance of the July 1 deadline,” said Laurie Rule, an attorney with Advocates for the West. “It’s ridiculous that we need to litigate to have the agency follow the plain language of the rider and act consistently with its own decision to keep domestic sheep out of bighorn habitat this year.”

The Forest Service’s determination to forego the previous Payette Decision benefits a single grazing permittee to the detriment of numerous bighorn sheep populations found on the Payette National Forest. Bighorn sheep usually die from respiratory disease not long after contact with domestic sheep, and the disease is one of the primary factors that has already limited bighorn success in Hells Canyon and threatens the prized native Salmon River Canyon herd.

“Grazing domestic sheep in bighorn habitat condemns wild sheep populations to disease and death.” said Brian Ertz of Western Watersheds Project. “The Forest Service made the right decision to protect bighorn sheep on the Forest with its Payette Decision. Unfortunately, the agency has decided to buckle to political pressure once again. We will continue to push back against political assaults on these beautiful animals.”

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Brief in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Background on the Bighorn Rider:
Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 Protects Bighorn Sheep Throughout the West

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Western Watersheds Project is a 501(c)3 conservation group that seeks to restore and protect western watersheds and wildlife habitat.

Advocates for the West is a non-profit environmental law group whose mission is to use law and science to restore streams and watersheds, protect public lands and wildlife, and ensure sustainable communities in the Idaho and other western states.

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