Idaho Public Television Discusses the Bighorn Sheep Issue.

Last night Idaho Public Television’s “Dialogue” program had a round table discussion about the bighorn sheep issue and Congressman Mike Simpson’s disease rider that is attached to the Fiscal Year 2012 – House Interior-Environment Appropriations Bill.  On the panel, moderated by Marcia Franklin, was Margaret Soulen Hinson, president, American Sheep Industry Association; Neil Thagard, former president, Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation; McCoy Oatman, Executive Committee member, Nez Perce Tribe; and Suzanne Rainville, retired supervisor, Payette National Forest.

The discussion was lively and all of the callers seemed to question the need for the legislation which bypasses development of policy which uses the best available science.  Some questioned the need to subsidize the woolgrowers who receive subsidies in the form of low grazing fees, wool and sheep meat subsidies, taxpayer funded predator killing, and low wage ($750/month) immigrant workers.

The woolgrowers industry wants, what they term as a 5-year time-out, so that scientists have time to develop a vaccine to be given either to wild or domestic sheep.  I believe that the development of a successful vaccine strategy is unlikely but, as Neil Thagard says, the bighorn sheep in the West just don’t have time to wait.  According to Thagard, the scientists who are working on a vaccination strategy area also saying that it may take 10-15 years to accomplish.

They are also concerned that the BLM and Forest Service, in response to litigation, will have to use the best available science to develop a coherent policy which could result in closing some domestic sheep grazing allotments in areas with bighorn sheep in proximity.

Bighorn Sheep lambs © Ken Cole
Bighorn Sheep lambs © Ken Cole

As we saw in the winter of 2009/2010 and are seeing this year, pneumonia epidemics are still killing bighorn sheep.  The outbreak of pneumonia in bighorn sheep during the winter of 2009/2010 killed approximately 1,000 sheep in 5 states out of a population that is estimated to be around 30,000 nationwide.

Neil Thagard also pointed out that while the woolgrowers pay only $19,000 per year in grazing fees, the tour boat operators in Hell’s Canyon pay the same agencies $90,000 in fees and bring a lot more money to the economy than the woolgrowers.

In the web extra portion of the show, Brian Ertz called in and asked a series of questions about the subsidies and questioned whether the industry was one worth saving.

You can watch the whole episode and the web extra here:
Bighorn Sheep.
Idaho PTV – Dialogue


  1. Mike Avatar

    If it were wolves killing the sheep, Idaho would be freaking out. Convenient outrage.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    THere is not an anti-bighorn sheep constituency in Idaho like there is an anti-wolf one. Well, that is except for this small group of elite sheep ranchers, many of who have received government subsidy payments of a million dollars or more.

    A million dollars . . . that seems to be the dividing line between the 1% and the 99%. So this looks like a classic them against us issue. The only reason why people are not up in arms over Simpson and his oh-so-special-interest amendment, a measure that could almost wipe out bighorn sheep nationwide, is that they don’t know about it.

    Few media have covered it. The amendment was added to the appropriations bill with no hearings. No one was allowed to give input except for those few for whom this is a giant gift.

  3. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    This is just unbelievable.

    Soulen’s response to Brian’s questions was a complete joke. Her position is totally indefensible. She even does a piss-poor job of pretending that this is about anything other than a small group of people trying to preserve their privelege at the expense of taxpayers.

    Soulen’s arrogance about the taxpayer funds issue is appalling. She’s so sure that there’s no risk of losing those funds that she almost feels comfortable just admitting that woolgrowers are just taking them because they can.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    It would be good if folks started putting this story on Facebook and other social media.

    This kind of arrogance only thrives in the dark.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      I wish I had more friends that were concerned about these types of issues.

  5. Jerry Black Avatar
    Jerry Black

    This seems like another issue that the big “conservation” groups that tell us they are watching over our wildlife, shy away from. Same old BS……..let’s “compromise” with the livestock industry.
    Thanks Brian and the rest of WWP for continuing to fight….must get lonesome out there.
    Damn right I’ll put this on facebook!

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Thanks, Jerry. I see the problem is more pneumonia. Well, I’m hardly surprised.

  6. Bighorn 'hunter' Avatar
    Bighorn ‘hunter’

    I am intimately involved in the conservation effort of native Bighorn on the Salmon River. The sheep industry is on its way out whether federal land management agencies limit grazing on public lands or not. Margaret is breathing her last breath. People want to see more wild sheep on the river. I know this from speaking to folks from all walks of life personally as I do my job on the river. Adult survival of this population is quite high. It is lamb survival that is the issue. They are dying of pneumonia. I have witnessed it first hand, I just have not been able to recover any carcasses to prove my point. I suppose that makes it anecdotal from a scientific standpoint. This is the last truly native population of Bighorn sheep in Idaho. It is only right to do our part to restore them to historic numbers. Imagine 10x as many sheep in the canyon! Now that is a sight that I and many others, hunters and non-hunters alike, would like to see! Please spread the word on this issue! I truly love these sheep and have busted my butt to help them recover! Thank you!

  7. Ronald Smith Avatar
    Ronald Smith

    A rancher herded his sheep up Sinks Canyon near Lander Wyoming a few years ago and killed every bighorn sheep in the canyon. Domestic sheep need to be forbidden on public land!!!

  8. Jessica Avatar

    I dont have anything against what is being discussed because i dont live anywhere near Payette National Forest i live in seattle. I do have to say that my current science teacher Mr. Greg Pile is addicted to sheep and has us working on a project about this discussion. We have to write position papers putting ourselves in the place of the people having the discussion. I’m taking position of the Bighorn Sheep and i have no clue what to talk about. Do any of you know how i could write a position paper in the position of a bighorn sheep? thanks


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