Conservationists File Suit Over Illegal Sheep Grazing in Yellowstone Area

This lawsuit is over sheep grazing in the Centennial Mountains to the west of Yellowstone. The range forms the Idaho/Montana border.

-News Release-

Conservationists File Suit Over Illegal Sheep Grazing in Yellowstone Area
Groups Seek to Protect Bighorn Sheep and Other Endangered Species

SILVER CITY, N.M.— Two conservation groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture today over the illegal grazing of domestic sheep on more than 100,000 acres of public lands in and near the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Idaho and Montana. The presence of these domestic sheep, and management actions taken on their behalf, hurts sensitive and endangered native wildlife such as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, lynx, gray wolves and grizzly bears.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project filed suit against the Sheep Experiment Station, Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service, all agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Sheep Experiment Station itself manages about 48,000 acres, where it is grazing sheep without any environmental analysis or consideration of impacts to endangered species. The Sheep Station also grazes sheep on over 54,000 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management allotments, where its permits have expired, management plans date back to the 1960s, and little to no analysis has been completed.
“It’s not the 1870s anymore,” pointed out Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the federal government is allowing grazing in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with its world-class wildlife herds and rare animals, without permits — as if the West was still open range.”

“The Sheep Experiment Station is a relic of the past,” said Jon Marvel of Western Watersheds Project. “It is time to protect our wonderful native wildlife on these public lands lest we risk losing them.”
The conservationists point to systemic violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. The conservation groups also sent the agencies notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act.

The 100,000 acres of public land where the sheep are grazed include important connective habitat for any wildlife attempting to travel between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the large wilderness and roadless areas of central Idaho.

Epizootic diseases transmitted from domestic sheep also threaten bighorn sheep herds.

Lynx, wolves and grizzly bears are further at risk from the sheep grazing by 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. Without environmental analysis the public has been kept in the dark as to impacts on wildlife.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands.
Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife in 11 western states.

Editor’s note. Recall that earlier this year the Western Watersheds Project was able to use the law to keep domestic sheep from passing diseases to bighorn sheep in the Hells Canyon area of the Idaho/Oregon border.


  1. Pronghorn Avatar

    While it’s true that “Without environmental analysis the public has been kept in the dark as to impacts on wildlife,” this is really moot, owing to the fact that the public has had no clue that this tresspass has even been occurring! Bravo to CBD & WWP for bringing this suit and exposing–once again–the collusion between stockgrowers and the Feds at the expense of American citizens, our public lands, and native wildlife.

    Photo: Click on “Sheep graze near Odell Lake…”

    Link to U.S. Sheep Experiment Station:

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The Sheep Experiment Station run by the USDA near Dubois, ID and also high up in the Centennial Mountains has always been a black hole as far as public knowledge goes.

    I’ve long wondered what they do up there?

  3. mikarooni Avatar

    There is also some evidence that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) owes its existence to a specific experiment conducted, in CO, in the 1940s. In this experiment, wild native deer were penned with scrapie infested domestic sheep for a period of six months as I recall. When, after six months, the deer showed no sign of the scrapie, they were set free on the assumption that scrapie does not cross from domestic sheep to wild deer. Unfortunately, we now know that the incubation period for scrapie can be much longer than six months, that the first symptoms of CWD may not appear for years, and that, once the prion was introduced into the deer, they probably carried it with them into the wild where it became what we now know as CWD. As a proper disclaimer, I and my ancestors have stayed clear of sheep for about a thousand years; they carry all kinds of disease; and, with those forward set teeth that cut right through the root crowns of grass and other range plants, they trash the range worse than ten times as many cattle.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan