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For Immediate Release, April 6, 2010

Contact:  Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

Sheep Station Restricts Grazing to Protect Grizzly Bears

BOISE, Idaho— In response to a lawsuit and comments submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in eastern Idaho, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has issued a decision to halt the grazing of sheep in vital grizzly-bear habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Additional grazing restrictions are needed, but the Sheep Station’s decision is an important first step while the government facility continues to analyze the environmental impacts of its widespread grazing activities.

“Since filing suit three years ago, we’ve been very clear that the Sheep Station needs to stop grazing sheep within prime habitat for imperiled wildlife species, including grizzly bears and wolves,” said Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Additional restrictions are critical, but we’re finally making some progress.”   

The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project filed suit in June 2007 to compel the Sheep Station to analyze the environmental impacts of its decades-long grazing on more than 100,000 acres of public lands in eastern Idaho and southwest Montana. A settlement was reached that required the Sheep Station to analyze the effects of its grazing activities under the National Environmental Policy Act, and to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impacts of the sheep grazing on threatened and endangered species. While an initial analysis simply perpetuated the status quo, the Sheep Station decided on March 31, 2010 to cease grazing on its Meyers Creek allotment and East Summer Range lands in the Centennial Mountains, due to grizzly bear concerns, while it prepares a more comprehensive environmental impact statement.

“If these sheep experiments are truly necessary, there are far more appropriate places than within key habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, and other iconic species,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project.

The U.S. Sheep Station grazes thousands of sheep on more than 48,000 acres of land that it directly manages in eastern Idaho and southwest Montana, and also holds allotments with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Overall, the Sheep Station grazes sheep on 100,000-plus acres of public lands, over half of which is located within the boundaries of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These lands include important connective habitat for wildlife attempting to travel between the Yellowstone Ecosystem and the large wilderness areas of central Idaho. Bighorn sheep herds are also threatened by diseases transmitted from domestic sheep.

In addition, lynx, wolves, and grizzly bears are at risk from the sheep grazing because of predator-control measures, since steel leghold traps and strangulation snares, aerial gunning, and poisons are all typically used to prevent wildlife from preying on domestic sheep. In 2009 alone, Sheep Station-related activities were at least partially responsible for the killing of two entire wolf packs, including at least 11 adults and six pups.

The fact that additional restrictions are needed to provide greater protection for grizzly bears is acknowledged by the Bureau of Land Management, which requested in recent comments that the Sheep Station permanently cease grazing sheep in the East and West Summer Ranges, its Humphrey Ranch, and the East Beaver, Meyers, and Henniger allotments.

The Sheep Station will soon issue a new public notice to commence preparation of an environmental impact statement for its continued grazing activities.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation group with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is an Idaho-based conservation group with offices in six western states. Western Watersheds works to protect and improve the wildlife, riparian areas, water quality, fisheries, and other natural resources and ecological values of watersheds throughout Idaho and the West.

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