Big money bill could restrict bighorn management

 

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson isn't sheepish about legislative appendages. First it was a grazing rider that would allow the Bureau of Land Management to transfer permits without environmental review. His latest -- also tacked to the House’s 2012 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill -- could decide the fate of a wooly battle waged for more than two decades. The measure would prevent Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service managers from using their funds toward any bighorn sheep management activities that would decrease domestic livestock grazing on federal lands through 2016.

When domestic sheep intermingle with bighorns, they can infect the wild sheep with pneumonia-causing microbes, bacterial afflictions that often lead to death in the wild sheep. But some areas where ranchers graze domestic sheep overlap with bighorn habitat. Land managers, environmental groups and woolgrowers have fought over the separation of domestic sheep from their bighorn cousins since 1985. High Country News writer Nathaniel Hoffman wrote about this conflict over where bighorn sheep were protected by separation and where domestic sheep ranchers could graze their flocks on public lands in Idaho's Payette National Forest in 2007. 

A precedent-setting decision came in summer 2010, even as bighorn herds -- which have struggled in the past -- have begun recovering from declines.. High Country News associate editor Sarah Gilman wrote that Payette National Forest managers decided to nix 70 percent of domestic sheep grazing on nearly 70,000 acres over the next three years.

Simpson says the Payette National Forest decision forced several sheep ranchers out of the business, estimating that 20,000 sheep had been removed from former grazing sites (subscription only). And if other forest managers make similar decisions nationally and block domestic sheep from 5 percent of grazing allotments overlapping bighorn habitat, the sheep and wool industry could lose nearly a quarter of its production, says American Sheep Industry Association Peter Orwick.

Simpson was confident about the rider's prospects as the bill moves to the Senate: the Idaho Statesman reported the congressman expected the rider to remain intact during negotiations. Proponents said the measure was introduced so other national forests couldn't follow in the steps of the Payette National Forest decision to separate the two species. It also was interpreted as a five-year break for the sheep industry in the wake of vaccine testing that looked like a solution, absent the need for separation of the species on public grazing lands.  But there's one nasty problem with that nasty bug --  it'll take more than five years to ramp up a vaccine to kill it, according to Washington State University professor Subramaniam Srikumaran.

He estimated a field vaccine was 10 to 15 years in the future in an Oct. 11 letter to primary research funder, Wild Sheep Foundation. The vaccine Srikumaran used on four bighorn sheep earlier this year required a series of booster shots, but was successful. The one Srikumaran envisions would be a single vaccine administered through food and would require additional time for a pharmaceutical company to manufacture in large quantities.

The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation and 12 other environmental groups sent a letter (subscription only) to Simpson requesting he remove the rider last week.

"We reiterate that protecting and rebuilding bighorn sheep populations depends upon effective separation from domestic sheep," the letter said, also noting the timing of the vaccine.

Environmental groups also tried to convince Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to remove the language from the bill. Greater Yellowstone Coalition Idaho director Marv Hoyt said the language “is sending a strong signal to the Forest Service, don’t mess around with domestic sheep grazing.”  Hoyt also worries it will impact the health of bighorn herds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Simpson's rider was absent along with other riders in the Senate's draft appropriations bill released Oct. 14. The bill was accompanied with a letter from Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Ranking Member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, stating the draft served as a starting point for negotiations with the House. But it is unclear what prospects the rider has in the final bill the House and Senate will produce. 

Kimberly Hirai is an intern at High Country News.

Image courtesy Flickr users gharness and funpics47.

High Country News Classifieds
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.