Greens Go to Bat for Bighorn Sheep

     BOISE (CN) – The U.S. Forest Service’s misinterpretation of a federal law that prevents further closure of Western forest land to domestic sheep grazing is killing and endangering wild bighorn sheep, environmentalists claim in Federal Court.
     Western Watersheds Project, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and The Wilderness Society first sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2007, to prevent non-native species’ from grazing sections of Idaho’s Payette National Forest.
     Such close contact gives wild bighorns respiratory disease and causes major “die-offs,” the groups said.
     The first lawsuit resulted in closure of five Payette National Forest allotments. The Forest Service agreed that bighorn were put at risk by the presence of domestic sheep.
     Sheep grazers feared that the lawsuit would trigger more widespread closures. But instead of judicially challenging the 2010 record of decision, the sheep industry lobbied Congress to attach a rider to the 2012 omnibus appropriations bill prohibiting further restrictions on domestic sheep grazing, the environmentalists say.
     “Bighorns and domestic sheep are related – they are in the same genus – and both species are highly social and gregarious,” according to the new complaint. “Thus, domestic sheep and bighorns tend to be attracted to each other, making it likely that they will come in contact when they are near each other in the wild. …
     “Despite the fact that the ROD [record of decision] was signed in July 2010 and the permit modifications implementing 2011, 2012 and 2013 allotment closures were signed in February and April 2011, the Forest Service is interpreting the 2012 rider as requiring the Payette National Forest to leave open the allotments that the ROD required it to close in 2012.
     “Not only is this interpretation contrary to the plain language of the rider, it puts the imperiled Hells Canyon and native Salmon River Canyon bighorn sheep populations at risk after the Forest Service spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars on a peer-reviewed scientific analysis aimed at protecting these populations.”
     The environmental groups claim the Forest Service is acting inconsistently with its own forest plan, in violation of the National Forest Management Act. They seek declaratory judgment and an injunction preventing the Forest Service from ignoring its 2010 record of decision.
     The environmental groups are represented by Lauren Rule, with Advocates for the West, of Boise, and Jennifer Schemm, of La Grande, Ore.

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