Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Challenging Illegal Sheep Grazing in Yellowstone Ecosystem

For years the U.S. Sheep Experimental Station, headquartered at Dubois, Idaho (not Dubois, Wyoming) has been grazing sheep in the top of the Centennial Mountains and elsewhere in the general area, and with no environmental analysis.

After yet another successful lawsuit by Western Watersheds and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Advocates for the West, they have agreed to do their first environmental analysis.

I recently found out they winter the sheep at the base of Lemhi Mountains in high semi-arid country. I had wondered since 1972, when I first went there, why this country looked so beaten out come spring.

Ralph Maughan

For Immediate Release, February 20, 2008


Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 534-0360
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290
Todd Tucci, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024

Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Challenging Illegal Sheep Grazing in Yellowstone Ecosystem: U.S. Sheep Experiment Station Agrees to Conduct Environmental Analysis

Boise, Idaho – The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project have reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in eastern Idaho to resolve a lawsuit filed last summer. The settlement requires the U.S. Sheep Station to analyze the environmental effects of the sheep grazing 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. The Sheep Station is part of the Agricultural Research Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The presence of these thousands of domestic sheep, and management actions taken on their behalf, harms sensitive and endangered native wildlife such as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, lynx, gray wolves, and grizzly bears – and yet these impacts have never been examined on the thousands of acres that are directly managed by the U.S. Sheep Station in southeastern Idaho and southwestern Montana. Analysis of impacts on the even larger tracts of national forest and Bureau of Land Management public lands is decades out of date and was cursory.

Diseases transmitted from domestic sheep threaten bighorn sheep herds. “The largest concentration of bighorn sheep in the world is jeopardized by the lawless grazing that has been taking place,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

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.

The U.S. Sheep Station was established in 1915, and the National Environmental Policy Act was enacted in 1970, so this environmental analysis is decades overdue. “The door will now be open to allow members of the public to learn about how this experiment station’s programs affect wildlife,” said Robinson. “This settlement will allow people aside from the agencies and livestock industry to participate and submit their opinions on how these lands should be treated.”

The U.S. Sheep Station itself manages about 48,000 acres, where it has been grazing sheep without any environmental analysis or consideration of adverse impacts to endangered species. The Sheep Station also grazes sheep on over 54,000 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Many of the environmental impacts take place within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as well as within habitats that wildlife use in attempting to travel between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the large wilderness and roadless areas of central Idaho.

“If these experiments are indeed necessary, there must be a more appropriate place than within such important habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and other wildlife,” said Jon Marvel, director of the Western Watersheds Project.

Under the settlement agreement, the environmental analysis is required to be completed by November 28, 2008

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is an Idaho-based regional conservation group with offices in five western states.


  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    The more lawsuits, the better. Now if we can get domestic sheep off the range.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The Sheep Experiment Station winters domestic sheep on the BLM Bernice Allotment North of Howe Idaho along the Southern base of the Lemhi Mountains.
    All of the the sheep at the Experiment Station are technically owned by the University of Idaho.
    ( I think this is some phony ownership scam so that the U of I can get federal subsidies for wool and meat and use those subsidies to pay for membership in the Idaho Sheep Commission.) Can you say “Stan Boyd”?
    The U of I Sheep pay no grazing fees to the BLM. They get a phony “research” status so they get free grazing. They also get free grazing on all the federal land controlled by the Sheep Experiment Station. This serves to keep domestic sheep allotments open without costing the woolgrowers a penny and makes the U of I some subsidy money. U of I subsidy monies are then used to support the Woolgrowers organization and help pay Stan Boyds salary. . The woolgrowers then can give money to elect Governor Otter and other sheep-friendly Idaho legislators, who in turn give the Sheep Commisssion some general fund operating money. The Governor then picks the IDF&G Commission and tells them what to do. A win-win situation for the woolgrowers wouldn’t you say?

    Bighorn sheep use the area North of the Bernice Allotment and are in danger of being shot if they come near the U of I sheep as allowed in the new IDF&G Bighorn/domestic sheep plan, just submitted to Governor Otter by his appointed IDF&G Commission.
    The area has the potential to winter several hundred bighorns, but the Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Plan forbids the IDF&G from allowing Bighorn populations to expand into domestic sheep allotments.
    This pretty well limits Bighorns to the areas they now occupy and makes it difficult for small isolated Bighorn populations to survive.
    The phony IDF&G Bighorn/Domestic sheep Plan is a woolgrowers dream come true.
    The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and the University of Idaho are being used for private and political gain by the Idaho Woolgrowers and Governor Otter.
    Get some smart lawyers after them.

  3. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley

    Besides Otter & Boyd one can see the feet of “wide stance” tapping all over this. Does the settlement prevent use of this land by sheep until the analysis is completed?

  4. kim kaiser Avatar

    Heres a real funny on sheep and the integrity of hunters and ethics,, not saying there all that way,,, but,

    Hunter gets probation in bighorn sheep incident
    By Peter Vandergrift, Enterprise Staff Writer

    An Idaho hunter who threatened to shoot another hunter over a bighorn sheep ram was sentenced to two years probation for criminal endangerment Monday.

    Thomas L. McLean, 57, of Fishtail, Idaho, was found guilty and sentenced in District Court for the incident, which took place Sept. 15, 2006.

    According to court documents, Kyle Kimball said he was hunting early in the morning near Cooke City and shot a bighorn sheep. After the sheep went down, McLean came into the area and claimed he had shot the sheep.

    McLean pointed his rifle at Kimball and told him to leave. Kimball told McLean to check the bullet to see who had shot the sheep, documents state.

    McLean then shot a “warning shot” in Kimball’s direction and threatened to shoot him if he did not leave.

    After shots were fired, Kimball decided to leave and reported the incident to the authorities.

    When McLean checked the sheep in to a Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks biologist a few days later, he admitted to threatening Kimball and he was taken into custody.

    The sheep was confiscated at the time, and the judge awarded it to Kimball.

    Charges of intimidation and theft for taking the sheep were dropped.

  5. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    There is a difference between hunters and criminals, this guy is a criminal, and should be spending time in Jail, loose any right to ever buy a hunting lic and loose his rights to own a gun, they should have never dropped any of the charges in this case, and he should be on his way to Deerlodge…


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