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Know the West

Bad blood over good sheep

  -I've had it with the land-grant system. They don't care about people. They care about money, power, profits and greed," charges Lyle McNeal, founder of Utah State University's Navajo Sheep Project, which brought traditional Churro sheep back from the brink of extinction (HCN, 5/1/95).

Now, the Navajo Sheep Project is in the process of becoming McNeal's own nonprofit, and he and the university at Logan are haggling over its assets. McNeal argues they are "morally and ethically" his, but fears the university plans to sell off the project's land, equipment and even sheep to the highest bidder to pay off the project's $100,000 debt - a debt McNeal says the university created by hijacking the project's private donations.

McNeal, a tenured professor of sheep and wool science, filed suit against the university on April 18, charging it with breach of contract and destruction of his reputation. He says "the truth will come out" when the case is heard later this year in federal district court in Salt Lake City.

Rod Brown, Dean of USU's College of Agriculture, denies that the University plans to sell the sheep. As for turning the project over to McNeal, Brown says, "Things are going along quite well." He refuses to comment on the lawsuit, but adds, "Before long (the dispute) will all clear up and disappear."

McNeal isn't confident of that. To stop the university from auctioning off the project, he is seeking a restraining order. If university attorneys don't cancel the sales, McNeal says he'll ask the judge to halt them: "I'm not going to let them take the sheep." Meanwhile, the sheep in question are near Bear Lake, acting as bait in a federal coyote study.

For more information, write Lyle McNeal at The Navajo Sheep Project, P.O. Box 4454, Logan, UT 84323-4454, or call Dean Rod Brown at 801/797-2215.

*Emily Miller