Weiser sheep rancher tells Idaho lawmakers Forest Service threatens his livelihood
Brian Murphy – Idaho Statesman
Sheepherder Ron Shirts has appealed to the Idaho Senate to intervene and give him special consideration above the interests of the public, wildlife, and the Nez Perce Tribe. Shirts complains that his livelihood is threatened because the Payette National Forest is not living up to an agreement made in 1997 when bighorn sheep were transplanted to Hells Canyon. The article fails to mention that this agreement did not include the Nez Perce Tribe who still hold treaty rights to grazing and hunting in the area which supersede those of Shirts and other sheepherders.
In response to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Western Watersheds Project to protect bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon, the Payette National Forest is drafting a plan which could substantially reduce domestic sheep grazing on its forest.
Disease is the major concern here, when domestic sheep and bighorn sheep intermingle it is thought that Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae is passed from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep causing pneumonia. In fact, in October a bighorn sheep lamb was found on the South Fork of the Salmon River near Hettinger Ranch and preliminary tests indicate it was killed by pneumonia.
For many reasons, not least of which is protection of bighorn sheep health, this reduction in grazing would be beneficial. The area north of McCall, Idaho, where the closures are most likely, has become important summer elk habitat and, in turn, important wolf habitat which is invaded each year by large bands of domestic sheep. This is one of the areas where wolf mortality from Wildlife Services is a perennial problem because of the conflicts caused by domestic sheep grazing.
You can comment on the plan until March 3rd, 2009.
This draft Forest Service map shows the range of bighorn sheep in Idaho and the boundaries of Forest Service domestic sheep allotments occur. Notice that there are other areas where a similar situation occurs, particularly in the White Cloud Mountains, Lost River Range, and other areas.
Currently there is a interim strategy in place which calls for the Idaho Fish and Game Department to kill bighorn sheep seen intermingling with domestic sheep and goats, which are also thought to transmit the disease. Also, Bush’s former undersecretary for natural resources with the Department of Agriculture Mark Rey recently issued a Memorandum of Understanding which would cede wildlife management power from the states to the Federal Government by forcing the states to show that bighorn sheep are disease free before they could be relocated to Federal lands.
Meanwhile there has been another effort to create a new strategy in an attempt to maintain the viability of sheepherders using a collaborative process among a yet-to-be determined group. You can see the notes of the first meeting here.
Here are two more perspectives in the press
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” said New Plymouth Republican Sen. Monty Pearce when asked about a bill he is preparing.
Payette forest planner Pattie Soucek, 53, said the 1997 agreement does not legally apply to the Payette Forest. Using the 1997 letter to set grazing standards in the forest would be a violation of several federal laws, including the National Forest Management Act.
Both articles mention legislators who might be planning to introduce legislation.