The Bush administration is attempting yet another under-the-radar rules change on its way out the door (watchdog Propublica keeps a complete list of other such changes). This time it's wresting away Western states' abilities to manage their bighorn sheep populations. Wildlife management has historically been the responsibility of state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now, the Department of Agriculture wants jurisdiction over bighorn sheep transplants on public land.
Because wild bighorns tend to catch deadly diseases from domestic sheep, there have been major legal battles over allowing sheep producers to graze their flocks in bighorn territory (see our story Sheep v. Sheep).
The secret agreement, which was penned in September and revealed this week, would require, among other things, that wild bighorns be tested for diseases by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before they're released on national forests, and that the Forest Service approve such releases.
Bighorn advocates are outraged, saying that the move benefits sheep ranchers at the expense of wild sheep, and undermines state authority over wildlife.
In a letter sent Monday to USDA Undersecretaries Mark Rey and Bruce Knight, the wildlife agencies' association condemned the agreement for being "drafted without input from any state wildlife agency, whose statutory authority to manage resident wildlife is clearly established."
As written, the action "contravenes existing law and policy, is unworkable in day-to-day management of the states' wildlife resources and produces a host of undesirable (and perhaps unintended) consequences," the letter contends. ...
"Collectively, we view this (action) as an attempt to usurp state wildlife agency jurisdiction and authority, and we will actively challenge that interference, if deemed necessary," the signatories conclude.