Closure of federal sheep facility would be a victory for grizzlies

 

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It’s a major, if indirect, victory for wildlife, says Tom France, NWF’s Northern Rockies senior director of Western wildlife conservation. “In some ways, this may be the reverse of an experience you had growing up – where there was a vacant lot or a woodland where you played, that someone later came and built houses on.”

Under the closure, much of the station’s nearly $2 million budget will be transferred to other Idaho research facilities, and its genetics research program would go to another federal sheep research facility in Nebraska. But Agricultural Research Service spokeswoman Sandy Miller Hays was uncertain what would happen to its rangeland-related research. Such projects are a key part of why the sheep industry is stumping for the facility to stay open: Without access to high desert and mountain environments where Western ranchers actually run sheep, supporters argue, researchers can’t test specialized breeds or ways to improve grazing practices to protect sensitive habitats and species. And the loss of its largest employer (17 people would be reassigned) would be a major blow to rural Dubois, Idaho.

It didn’t take long for Idaho and Montana’s congressional delegations, along with a couple of conservative lawmakers from Washington and Oregon, to throw their weight behind the station with their own letter in July. Notably, all are Republicans that have in the past attacked federal budgets as being too bloated. In response, the research service held listening sessions and gathered public comments through last Thursday, and will report back to Congress with its findings.

Until then, the station’s fate will likely be as murky as bear 726’s. But “unless Idaho’s congressional delegation passes a rider on some bill that keeps it open,” France says, “it’s not a matter of if it closes, but of when.”

Sarah Gilman is a contributing editor at High Country News. She tweets @Sarah_Gilman. Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.