Woolgrowers lose in Idaho Supreme Court

It all started with a letter in 1997 to Stan Boyd, the Executive Director of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association (IWGA). The letter, written on the letterhead of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest, was asking for the support of the IWGA for the reintroduction of bighorn sheep to parts Hells Canyon.  In turn, the signatories stated they would accept the risk that current domestic sheep grazing posed to the newly reintroduced bighorn sheep or already established bighorn sheep populations nearby and would “take whatever action is necessary to reduce further losses of bighorn sheep without adversely impacting existing domestic sheep operators”.

The Committee understands that bighorns may occasionally migrate outside of their designated range and come into contact with domestic sheep. These bighorns will be considered “at risk” for potential disease transmission and death. There is also the potential for an exposed bighorn to leave the area and spread disease to other bighorn sheep. Under these conditions, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Washington Department of Wildlife will assume the responsibility for bighorn losses and further disease transmission in their respective states. The three Departments will also take whatever action is necessary to reduce further losses of bighorn sheep without adversely impacting existing domestic sheep operators. The enclosed map clearly delineates the project area within the Hells Canyon complex. Bighorns straying into currently active sheep allotments will be considered “at risk” by all of the Committee entities. This means that the Committee recognizes the existing domestic sheep operations in or adjacent to the Hells Canyon complex, on both National Forest and private lands, and accepts the potential risk of disease transmission and loss of bighorn sheep when bighorns invade domestic sheep operations.

The Committee will make every effort to keep interested parties informed about actions being considered by the Committee in its effort to repopulate Hells Canyon with bighorn sheep. We will provide all health information gathered on bighorn sheep to the woolgrowers industry and other interested parties.

Bighorn sheep were subsequently reintroduced to parts of Hells Canyon.  The letter promised something that could not be delivered and, because it violated the species viability rules of the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), it was not valid.  The letter was also not subjected to public review so parties who would obviously not support such a giveaway to the private sector had no way of influencing it.  Additionally, the Payette National Forest was not a signatory to the letter.

Regardless, when Western Watersheds Project, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, and The Wilderness Society filed litigation over the Payette National Forest’s land use plan because it did not ensure the viability of bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon and the Main Salmon River Canyon, the Woolgrowers waived this letter around saying that there had been an “agreement” made that indemnified the ranchers.

It didn’t work.  The Payette National Forest, in response to a Federal Court ruling had to go back and rewrite the land use plan and ensure that bighorn sheep populations remained viable on the Forest.  This resulted in the closure of 70% of the sheep grazing on the Forest, a big victory for bighorn sheep that were threatened by fatal diseases carried by domestic sheep.

In response, the IWGA filed litigation against the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, who signed the letter, alleging that IDFG “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 from these decisions.”

On its face the litigation was absurd.  The IDFG, a state agency, has no authority over grazing on National Forests which are managed by the US Forest Service, a federal agency.  The IDFG could not “block” the closure of domestic sheep allotments.

The court subsequently ruled against the IWGA which the IWGA later appealed all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court who upheld the ruling.

Read the ruling: Idaho Wool Growers V. State of Idaho 2012


  1. Ovis Avatar

    Yea, Ken. This case was absurd, but it shows the sense of entitlement these ranchers have that they couldn’t see it and brought it anyway. Talk about frivolous litigation!!

  2. Salle Avatar

    Over-grown teat-suckers whining about the long overdue weaning process. Good on the IDSC! You can only buy off so many players before the you end up consuming yourself in your own game.

    1. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
      Rita K. Sharpe

      I couldn’t have said that any better.

    2. Joseph Allen Avatar
      Joseph Allen

      The weaning of ranchers from the public trough is as necessary as the weaning of logging, mining, mineral extraction, drilling etc. corporations from their glut of subsidies. Personal welfare dwarfs corporate welfare in this nation but it doesn’t seem to bother many. As Ed Abbey would say, “most of the terrorism in this country is at the hands of the drill rig, bulldozer and chainsaw……” and the taxpayer is footing the bill.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue


        As I read your post, did you mean to write
        corporate welfare dwarfs personal welfare? That would strike the same chord as the remainder of your comment. Not being picky, I just want to agree with the full comment.

        1. Joseph Allen Avatar
          Joseph Allen

          Yes, you are correct…..too quick on the “post”

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    There is a short story on this today by the AP in the Idaho Statesman. The AP begins, “Booted off their grazing land, Idaho sheep ranchers have now been rebuffed in state Supreme Court after justices ruled against them on Friday.” [boldface is mine]

    So the welfare ranch grazing myth is so pervasive that the AP considers this public land as the rancher’s grazing land, when it is in fact national forest. The AP’s way of writing also implies that the Idaho Supreme Court has done some injustice by “rebuffing” them.

    This is another reason why we need the Western Watersheds Project — to fight this pervasive media imbalance, even though the imbalance here was probably not deliberate.

    1. Salle Avatar

      Amen ti the need for WWP! They have done far more to right some serious injustices than any number of other orgs that I can think of off the top of my head. I wouldn’t be so sure about the unintended part though. The corporate media tentacles reach far and wide with impunity, except in cases like this where you pointed out the error in framing.

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      The comments on that article are pretty strongly in favor of the ruling and many commentors point out the obvious problem with the story.

      Here is the story: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/09/15/2272959/idaho-supreme-court-rebuffs-sheep.html

  4. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    One AUM cost $1.35 in 1936 – the same as it does now.

    The current buying power of $1.35 is $23+. What a steal!

    1. Salle Avatar

      And how much does a wool sweater or a pair of wool socks cost these days? And it certainly isn’t due to the cost of the sheepherders’ fees…

  5. Steve Avatar

    The Idaho Stateman article does not have contact information for the AP reporter who wrote such an inaccurate article. Is there a way to post that person’s contact information so he/she can be corrected?


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