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Latest: Courts backs domestic sheep reduction near Idaho’s Hells Canyon

An Idaho court upheld a 2007 plan intended to protect bighorn sheep.


Pixa Bay

Ten thousand bighorn sheep once roamed Idaho’s Hells Canyon, in the Payette National Forest. But by the 1940s, disease and habitat loss from domestic sheep grazing had decimated the animals. In an effort to restore populations, about 600 bighorns have been transplanted to Hells Canyon since the 1970s. To protect them, in 2007 the Forest Service banned domestic sheep from large chunks of the Payette, sparking a battle over grazing privileges (“Sheep v. Sheep,” HCN, 10/1/07).

In March, Idaho courts upheld the 2007 plan, which calls for reducing domestic sheep numbers in the Payette by 70 percent. Ranchers and industry groups had sued in 2012, claiming the Forest Service didn’t follow legal procedures. “(This decision) means the Forest Service is making proactive conservation decisions,” says Greta Anderson, deputy director of the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project, which intervened in the lawsuit. Today, around 1,500 bighorns inhabit the Hells Canyon area.