Woolgrowers deny germ theory

After numerous humiliating defeats on whether to allow sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest, woolgrowers are going back to court to argue that domestic sheep don’t transmit deadly pneumonia to bighorn sheep.

Idaho Wool Growers Association, American Sheep Industry Association, Public Lands Council, and sheep ranchers from Wyoming and Colorado have filed a suit in Federal Court challenging the decision of the Payette National Forest to close nearly 70% of the sheep allotments on the forest to sheep grazing. According to an article from the Courthouse News Service, the woolgrowers claim “the decision was based on the theory that contact between domestic sheep and bighorns under range conditions results in the transmission of fatal pathogens from domestic sheep to bighorns 100 percent of the time.” “The Payette’s 2010 decision was flawed with procedural defects and an inadequate record basis.”

It is likely that the case will be assigned or transferred to Judge B. Lynn Winmill who has ruled on several related cases in recent years. Winmill recently ruled from the bench against the woolgrowers on whether Congressman Mike Simpson’s bighorn sheep legislative rider affected grazing on the Forest for 2012. He also ruled against the woolgrowers and the USFS on whether the Payette National Forest land use plan adequately addressed the risks posed to bighorn sheep by domestic sheep grazing on the Forest in the first place.

As for the science, there have been numerous studies which demonstrate that domestic sheep transmit deadly pneumonia to bighorn sheep. One 2010 paper stated that domestic sheep unequivocally transmit deadly pneumonia to bighorn sheep yet the woolgrowers remain steadfast in their assertion that this is not true. By claiming that transmission between the two species under field conditions hasn’t been proven, woolgrowers are doing little more than throwing out a red herring to distract casual observers.

This litigation is an effort to contain the Payette decision to just the Payette National Forest and seems to be another effort to maintain their historic hegemony over public lands.


  1. Salle Avatar

    So what was that someone said about endless, frivolous lawsuits? …is there a point where some judge actually gets to tell them to just go home and grow up? This seems to be a component of the “temper-tantrum Congress” that has been afflicting us with their adolescence of late.

    “This litigation is an effort to contain the Payette decision to just the Payette National Forest and seems to be another effort to maintain their historic hegemony over public lands.”

    You nailed it there, Ken. And thanks for all the work you do on this stuff, I know how grueling it can be.

  2. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K. Sharpe

    Ken,I,too,have to say thank you.Futhermore,a hearty thank you to the Western Watersheds Project for their work.

  3. alf Avatar

    Their theory or hope apparently is that if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth…like trickle down economics, the the climate change deniers (spelling ?) and creationists.

  4. jdubya Avatar

    Well they don’t have to do it 100% of the time. They just have to get one member of the wild sheep herd infected and the wild sheep can do the rest.

    This is all downstream from that bullshit at Univ of Idaho….no wonder the general person in society has such a deep distrust of “science”. One liar can foul the entire feedlot.

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar
    Brian Ertz

    Odd that they would have waited all the way until now to litigate, the ROD was over 2 years ago.

    Looks like a fee-hungry lawyer may be giving these guys an inflated sense of the likelihood that such claims will prevail. Oh well, the more they dump on their attorneys’ frivolous claims the less they’ll have for other fronts.

  6. CodyCoyote Avatar

    In 1979 I designed and editted a western history book on the leading sheepranching dynastic family in central Wyoming . In the course of the book project I necessarily got immersed in the history of domestic sheep being brought into sparsely populated Wyoming the late 1800’s from Utah and Idaho at roughly the same time as two other cultural waves: wholesale market hunting of big game, and the spread of cattle ranching. Single flocks of literally tens of thousands of sheep were trailed into the Wind River Basin and the Big Horn Basin and pushed into the mountains in summer.

    If you have ever heard sheep called ” Land Maggots” you would know why . Those early sheep drives wiped out the resident Bighorn native wild sheep in the Owl Creek Mountains and southern Absarokas. Domestic sheep ate nearly all the grass thus depriving all wildlife and especially ungulates of forage, and caused immense erosion problems which to this day 120 years later has not been remediated . The sheep barons consumed all the grass and water for their own gain and gave back nothing, because they could. They even set rampant fires in the forest to create grazeable pathways and new grass. The sheep pandemic was so awful on the Greybull River west of Meeteetse that a forest ” Reserve” was created , the first of its kind. The legislation allowing for these reserves had been created in 1891 but actual reserves had not beens et aside due to resistance from grazers and loggers among others. It took a savvy aristocratic landowner-artist , Archibald Anderson , lobbied his good friend Teddy Roosevelt to authorize the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve specifically to ban all domestic sheep, in liege with Otto Franc a progressive cattle rancher ( yes, they really do exist , even back then) to convince Roosevelt that sheep were the bane of the public domain virtually everywhere they set foot, but especially the high country. And Teddy bullied the proposal thru Congress to get it done because of it.

    Thus was born your very first National Forest per se , the Shoshone, in western Wyoming in ~ 1902, as blowback to the sheep barons. The first ever National Forest was created to banish sheepmen.

    At one time, Wyoming boasted having 6-8 million sheep, the most in the nation c. 1905. These days it pastures maybe 300,000 ( and falling) and few flocks forage the mountains. Most are herded on BLM lands or private pasture.

    My take on reading the Payette NF story here is that Idaho sheepmen still think it is 1890 and they believe they have collective clout on the l’aissez faire open range. The rest of us need to refresh our history and push hard for reform , once and for all. We have to remind the sheepmen they are not public land Barons. That is s-o-o-o-o 19th century

    1. skyrim Avatar

      interesting stuff Cody. Thanks for putting it up. “Wonderful Wyoming, where men are men and sheep are nervous”……..

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Now, now Skyrim. I think the movie Brokeback Mountain made it pretty dang clear, it wasn’t all about sheep or “stump broke” heifers 🙂

    2. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      A short but interesting read by Historian Jay Monaghan on how cattlemen opposed sheep.


      When did the cattlemen and sheep herders begin “sleeping” with each other?

  7. CodyCoyote Avatar

    This short story just cleared the AP wire. A Wyoming rancher-legislator want to have 40 Bighorn sheep removed from Forest Service lands in SE Wyoming near the Colorado border to protect domestic sheep . We can read that as: State Senator wants to codify the preference of a few months summer graze for some hundreds of domestic sheep over yearround habitat for a few dozen native wild sheep. Monopolize the available grass, in other words.

    Guess what ?—this legislator i–Larry Hicks— belongs to the Wyoming Wild Sheep FOundation (!?!?!?! ) and RMEF, NRA, SFW (!?!?) , Pronghorn Foundation, DU, Boone & Crockett , Pope & Young , and a few other conversation related groups. His education is in Agronomy and Crop Science and his occupation as listed on the Wyoming legislature site is ” Natural Resources Manager”.



    ( quote- entirety) Wyoming could move or kill Encampment bighorns
    Associated Press
    Published: Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012 – 11:36 am

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A state lawmaker wants the option to remove a small herd of bighorn sheep from U.S. Forest Service lands in southeastern Wyoming if necessary to protect local sheep ranchers.

    Sen. Larry Hicks, a Baggs Republican, says he hopes it won’t be necessary to remove about 40 bighorns from the Encampment River canyon in Carbon County. Hicks plans to ask a legislative committee later this month to endorse his proposal in case it’s needed.

    The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, a Laramie conservation group, is pushing a lawsuit against the Forest Service challenging its decision to allow continued domestic sheep grazing in the area. The group says domestic sheep could pass diseases to the bighorns.

    Ranchers in Idaho are challenging a Forest Service decision to cut domestic sheep grazing to protect bighorns there.

    Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/19/4835374/wyoming-could-move-or-kill-encampment.html


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