I was heartened about the future of our public lands as I read the article on "Global market squeezes sheep ranchers" (HCN, 11/19/01: Global market squeezes sheep ranchers). As a long-term resident of Boise who frequently hikes and mountain bikes on public lands, I have experienced first-hand the effects of Brad Little's and other public-lands livestock producers' sheep. Sheep manure and devastated wildflowers, shrubs and grasses are the sheep's by-products. A good example is two months ago, when I was backpacking near Hell's Canyon Recreation Area (public land for many miles around) and had the unfortunate experience of several hundred head of sheep spending the better part of the day near my campsite. The sheep's dust, smell and flies were unpleasant, but more tragic in this drought-stricken year, was the sheep's stripping of the grasses and shrubs. I was saddened as I thought of the deer and elk, left with a few thin strips of vegetation to eat during a harsh Idaho winter.
So many of us, human and native wildlife and fauna, find reason to celebrate the free market's working and consequent demise of an industry that has been on the decline for decades. As I drove on Highway 93 north of Salmon, Idaho, this weekend, I was thrilled to see a herd of eight native bighorn sheep near the road. As most Westerners know, over the last century, the bighorns have been utterly devastated from diseases and grazing competition from domestic sheep. Perhaps this vigorous-looking band of bighorns is an omen of a wilder and restored West, I thought, as the hooved domestic locusts depart our state.
Having been to New Zealand, I can vouch that it's ideal for sheep production, being wet, temperate and green year-round, unlike southern Idaho. To the extent our nation continues to have any demand for mutton, lamb or wool, New Zealand can certainly supply the bulk of it. Conscientious sheep producers like Louise Wagenknecht, who do not graze on public lands, can continue to supply a miniscule niche demand. Public-lands livestock producers would be well advised to be researching alternative ways to make a living, as market forces and conscientious citizens combine to end subsidized, destructive livestock grazing on our public lands.
Debra K. Ellers