It is not often that bipartisan solutions are offered that cut wasteful government spending and improve the environment. However, that is exactly what both the Trump and former Obama administration proposed when they recommended closing the U.S. Sheep Experimental Station headquartered in Dubois Idaho. They recommended closure for financial reasons, but removing the domestic sheep from public lands in important bighorn sheep and grizzly bear habitat in the Centennial Mountains of Montana and winter range in Idaho would also greatly improve the wildlife habitat. This proposal is welcomed and long overdue. Unfortunately, special interest politics have intervened to disrupt the process.
The old federal sheep station perpetuates conflicts by allowing University of Idaho domestic sheep to use prime bighorn sheep and grizzly bear habitat along the continental divide on the Montana-Idaho border, all at tax payer expense. Numerous scientific peer-reviewed research papers have proven that domestic sheep can transmit pathogens deadly to bighorn sheep when contact occurs. Domestic sheep are also a black hole for Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears attempting to expand their range along the continental divide.
Amazingly, the 16,600 acres controlled by the station in the Centennial Mountains in Montana are not considered public lands by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to USDA all these nationally owned lands are off limits to general public access, including public hunting, hiking, backpacking, etc. The only “legal” public access through this area according to USDA is provided along the Continental Divide Trail. Leaving the trail on sheep station controlled lands, as we understand it, would be considered criminal trespass.
These are some of the wildest places in North America and they represent a crucial wildlife corridor between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem to the west-northwest. A variety of species, including elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, sage grouse, wolves, and grizzly and black bears are adversely impacted by this government domestic sheep grazing program. So is walk in public access. This is no place for a tax-payer subsidized domestic sheep pasture.
Closing the Centennial Mountains to domestic sheep use, opening up public access and reducing the burden to American taxpayers is be a bipartisan issue. It makes both financial and ecological sense. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.
Why then has funding for this old station been placed back in the President’s proposed budget? We encourage you to ask Senators Tester and Daines from Montana and Representative Mike Simpson from Idaho exactly that question. In the interim, hunting/conservation organizations like the Gallatin Wildlife Association and Cottonwood Environmental Law as well as other wildlife and public land access advocates will continue to pursue actions to prevent the wildlife habitat in the Centennial Mountains from being degraded further and work for full public access to these incredible public lands.
The public land in question, most particularly the 16,600 acres of prime wildlife habitat in Montana would best be transferred to the adjacent Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge as the value of this public land for wildlife and public hunting and viewing far outweigh any other use.
Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho 2nd Congressional District:
Senator Steve Daines of Montana:
Senator Jon Tester of Montana:
Gallatin Wildlife Association
works closely with Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. For years our groups have challenged domestic sheep grazing by the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in 16,000 acres of the Centennial Mountains of
southwest Montana. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail cuts through the federal land and is closed to the public for hunting, hiking, camping and other recreational uses.
Biologists have described the Centennial Mountains as the most important grizzly bear corridor in the lower United States. In the heart of this corridor the Federal Government grazes thousands of domestic sheep. Grizzly bears have killed domestic sheep and chased sheepherders away from sheep carcasses.
Gallatin and Cottonwood have prevailed on two lawsuits against the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station that led the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to attempt to transfer the federal research to Nebraska, save tax payers millions of dollars every year, and open the 16,000 acres of federal land to the public. In response, Montana U.S. Senator Steve Daines introduced appropriations legislation that kept the Sheep Experiment Station open. Commissioners for MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks have sent letters to Montana's U.S. Senators asking him to stop domestic sheep grazing in the Centennial Mountains. The lead researcher for the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station has stated that grazing domestic sheep in the Centennial Mountains is not necessary for research purposes.
President Trump has indicated his intention to close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station to save taxpayer money. Senator Daines has again stated he will attempt to circumvent the closure of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and keep the 16,000 acres of federal land along the Continental Divide Trail closed to the public.
Please call Senator Daines and ask him to close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, save millions of tax payer dollars every year and open over 16,000 acres of federal land to the public for hunting, hiking, camping and mountain biking. (406) 587-3446.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks claims that 125 bighorn is a “minimum viable population”. Abundant science disagrees. In the long term, 125 bighorn is not a minimum population that is surely viable. In the short term, it may be a population that is minimally viable. (“Minimally” is the more appropriate term, as it inserts a realistic degree of uncertainty and it clearly modifies “viable”, not “population”.) Compared to other big game, abundant resources are dedicated to bighorn management. Yet, bighorn herds struggle throughout the West. Very many herds remain small and are subject to periodic outbreaks of disease. The most common and most apparent source of bighorn problems is pneumonia that is most often related to contact with domestic sheep.
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