Idaho Wool Growers Sue IDFG Over Bighorns

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole
Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

The Idaho Wool Growers Association and Shirts Brothers Sheep are suing the Idaho Fish and Game Department over an agreement that they signed in 1997 which would hold woolgrowers harmless if bighorn sheep introductions caused harm to their business. There are a number of problems with the agreement which make it unenforceable.

According to the lawsuit, “The Idaho Department of Fish and Game took no action to block the Forest Service from modifying the grazing allotments for Shirts and Shirts Brothers and took insufficient action to prevent Shirts and Shirts Brothers from being harmed by these actions”

I don’t know how the IDFG could block the Forest Service from making these changes. The IDFG has no control over the actions of the Forest Service. The IDFG does not manage grazing privileges on the National Forests and even if the lawsuit is successful it will not change the obligations of the Payette National Forest under the National Forest Management Act which requires them to manage the Forest in a manner which maintains the viability of native or desirable species, including bighorn sheep which have declined in number to only 3500 statewide.

In response to litigation by Western Watersheds Project, the Payette National Forest is drafting a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement which proposes an alternative which may close up to 60% of the Forest’s sheep grazing allotments to keep domestic sheep separate from bighorn sheep that inhabit Hell’s Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon.

Domestic sheep are known to carry diseases which are deadly to bighorn sheep and are likely to have killed hundreds of bighorn sheep throughout the west this winter.

Update 4/5/2010: A Copy of the Woolgrowers Lawsuit

~ be

Wool growers file suit against IDFG: Association claims state agency has not protected them from harm after introduction of bighorn sheep
Eric Barker – Lewiston Morning Tribune


  1. Jay Avatar

    Someone needs to reciprocate and sue the woolgrowers ass. for loss of all our bighorn sheep.

  2. Jay Barr Avatar
    Jay Barr

    Because this seemingly deals with reintroductions, it should have no bearing on the bighorn pop. in the Salmon River upstream from Riggins- that herd is native. Maybe Shirts’ contention that IDFG didn’t take action to modify the USFS’ decisions is the crux of their argument; they, IDFG, should have put up token resistance on behalf of the Shirts .

  3. JB Avatar

    The Shirts are on a fools’ errand. The Supreme Court has been crystal clear about who has the ultimate responsibility for wildlife on federal lands (hint: it ain’t state agencies).

    1. JB Avatar


    2. JB Avatar


  4. JimT Avatar

    An oldie but still a goodie…

  5. dewey Avatar

    Now you know why the only prerequisite to be a sheepherder or sheep rancher is to be slightly smarter than the sheep…

  6. mikarooni Avatar

    The rightwing, including these sheepherders, is always talking about jobs and the economy. The truth is that we have now have way more sheep, more wool, more lamb, more mutton, than we need. Wake up and check the sales; there’s a glut and prices are going nowhere. The bighorns, native wildlife that are decimated by the diseases and parasites carried by these flybreathing domestics (the livestock; the sheepherders themselves are pretty nasty; but, in this case, I’m referring to the livestock), are drawing people to stay in the US and spend money here and are actually much more valuable in terms of jobs and the economy, not to mention their value as irreplaceable native species.

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar

    I added a copy of the woolgrower’s lawsuit for those interested in some extra-curricular reading

  8. Chris Harbin Avatar
    Chris Harbin

    Is anyone else having trouble opening up the lawsuit pdf file?

    1. JB Avatar

      Yes. Doesn’t load for me.

  9. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    The pdf doesn’t open for me either.

    On the topic of jobs, I recently looked up the Idaho prevailing wage for sheepherders in the H2A visa program. It’s all of $750 per month! This is yet another form of subsidy by taxpayers–allowing sheep producers to hire cheap foreign labor that is basically an indentured servant.

    Add in all the other subsidies–e.g., wool, pelt, mutton, federal public land grazing fee at 27 cents/mo per ewe and offspring–these sheep producers are really at the public trough.

  10. Ken Cole Avatar

    I fixed it.

  11. JB Avatar

    “Based on this Agreement, on March 24, 1997 the Idaho Legislature enacted Idaho Code § 36-106(e)(5)(D), which…required that the Department of Fish and Game give notice of Bighorn sheep transplants to any affected federal grazing permittees stating that the existing sheep operations in the area of any such Bighom Sheep transplant “are recognized and that the potential risk, if any, of disease transmission and loss of bighorn sheep when the same invade domestic livestock or sheep operations is accepted.”

    When “bighorn sheep…invade domestic livestock or sheep operations”?! On Federal PUBLIC lands!? That is rich!


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole