Environmentalists Lose to Sheep Ranchers in Court
Since Statehood, there has been a long standing debate over sheep ranching v. cattle ranching. Sheep have grazed on the upper slopes of the Gravely Mountains, long before the United States Forest Service was tasked to manage these lands.
A recent Federal Court ruling came out in favor of the wool growers industry. An Eco~extreme group called the “Gallatin Wildlife Association” (GWA) sued the U.S Forest Service (USFS) in 2015 to prohibit domestic sheep grazing on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
In 2010, the USFS revised the forest plan. The GWA lawsuit claimed that the revision process did not properly analyze the connection between domestic sheep and health problems with wild bighorn sheep.
Using obsolete disproved information in the lawsuit, GWA faced three angry sheep ranchers that had been grazing sheep on these lands for generations.
Analysis paralysis took center stage again when the federal court ordered the USFS to do another study on the effect domestic sheep have on the big horn sheep population. The USFS has been ordered to complete multiple studies previously on the same subject. They have all determined that domestic sheep do not pose a threat to bighorn sheep or the environment.
The legal challenge against the sheep ranchers was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court twice and, after careful deliberation of the facts, the case was finally dismissed this spring. Cost of the litigation and impact to the ranchers is unknown.
The same radical environmentalists brought forward another case joining forces with another Eco~extremist group called the Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation (YBF). In this case, the suit targeted the United States Sheep Experiment Station. (USSE)
The station located in Dubois Idaho has been in place since 1915 working on development of healthy domestic sheep populations, and rangeland management. The station has been the target of environmental litigation seeking to remove sheep grazing from public lands for many years.
The American Sheep Industry Assn. working with the station stood their ground defending the practice with sound science. The station is in control grazing management in the Centennial Mountains in Beaverhead County Montana. Under an agriculture research concept, the grazing allotments are classified as laboratories which removed them from public domain.
In this case, the extremist groups demanded the station perform an environmental analysis to find out the impact on Grizzly Bears in the area. The station agreed and after an analysis was complete, the radical environmentalists were not satisfied and sued again. The station agreed again, completing another analysis, and agreed to suspend the grazing in the Centennial Mountains.
According to Jim Brown, director of public affairs for the Montana Wool Growers Association (MWGA), the environmental organizations that filed the multiple lawsuits were essentially abusing the court system.
In conclusion, a late May decision rendered by the court agreed that the environmental analysis was accurate and the domestic sheep are not a threat to grizzly bears. The station is now able to utilize the grazing allotments and continue research on healthy domestic sheep populations.
Ranching and public land grazing are an integral part of rangeland health. With the courts ruling against the Eco~extremist groups, the future of the ranching and multiple use industries have a brighter future.
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