US Fish and Wildlife Service sued by Western Watersheds over the legal implication of grizzly bear disappearance

USFWS called “wrong” to say no grizzlies had been killed on Sheep Experiment Station on Idaho/Montana border, Continental Divide Area

Boise, ID.  On May 17, 2013 the Western Watersheds Project, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Native Ecosystems Council and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation filed a suit in federal district court to challenge domestic sheep grazing that has been “jeopardizing the continued existence of the protected Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population.”

This grazing is on the Continental Divide area of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, long a contentious area over the conflict between sheep and several kinds of wildlife. The Wildlife News has written more articles about the Station than probably any other news media.

The lawsuit states that “Meeting notes between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Sheep Experiment Station obtained through the Freedom of Information Act state that within the past 8 years, there have been several grizzly bear mortalities near the Sheep Experiment Station. Last fall, the cut collar of a missing four-year old male grizzly (#726) was found hidden under a rock in a creek on the Sheep Station. The collar was found close to where the government’s sheep were being grazed, and a spent rifle cartridge was found at the sheepherders’ camp. The body of the bear was never found but the sheepherders were never questioned.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had previously made an official determination that sheep grazing on the Station would not harm the rare bears. This determination came before this grizzly went missing last September under suspicious circumstances.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture grazes domestic sheep under legal protection of a Biological Opinion (B.O.) from USFWS. The B.O. states “no known grizzly bear mortalities have occurred in or near the action area [Sheep Station] in the recent past.”

Western Watersheds said, “Grizzlies are dying on and near the Sheep Station as a consequence of this government grazing. That fact cannot be ignored any longer and the lawsuit will compel the government to reconsider the consequences of sheep grazing in the Centennial Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border.”  In other words, the plaintiffs are seeking to have the court order the defendants to “promptly complete” a new B.O. on the Station and the grizzly bear, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

In previous WWP actions regarding this controversial piece of U.S. Public Land withdrawn from BLM administration for USDA use — the Sheep Station, a couple of sheep grazing allotments have been closed. These menaced nearby bighorn sheep with the pneumonia that domestic sheep carry and frequently transmit to bighorn, so killing off the herds of their valuable wild cousins.

The Sheep Station portion on the Continental Divide is high scenic country in the Centennial Mountains which is also inside occupied grizzly bear habitat.


  1. alf Avatar

    The Sheep Station is an anachronism and MUST BE closed !

    Every time I’ve been up there, on top of the Centennials (not many, and not for quite a few years, I have to admit), it looked like the only experimenting they were doing was to see how close their damn sheep could crop the grass and forbs.

  2. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    Gee, I sure hope the USDA government morons who decided to graze domestic sheep in prime grizzly and bighorn country are placed in some Hall of Idiots monument. If only our federal government would at last start respecting native wildlife instead of continuiing a criminal tradition of being ecological retards. Isn’t 300+ years of persecution and massacre of North America’s native wildlife enough?

    1. Zach Avatar

      I agree with your statement. However, I kindly and respectfully ask that we move away from calling people “retards”.

  3. sandcanyongal Avatar

    If the people of this country REALLY care about the planet we inhabit, then let’s put an end to US Fish and Wildlife Services and shutthem down.
    The Sacramento Bee, ran a series of 5 or 6 investigative articles about Fish and Wildlife’s methods of killing wildlife for farmers and ranchers. To find them:
    1. Go to sacbee dot com
    2. News has a bar item in blue called Investigations
    3. Under “Investigative Reports by Sacramento Bee” is a line item called “Wildlife Agency”
    4. Read the horror of this killing agency and be very angry and stay angry, then act against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to help shut this “Killing Agency” down.

    Until the people rise up to protect and take control of the destiny of our surroundings special interest groups will continue to dig in our pockets for their own agendas. Who do you think is paying for our wildlife to be killed anyway?

    When a country’s number 1 national and natural treasure is being destroyed right under our noses so and electrical company can run their operation and a luxury home builder at the Tejon ranch is give a permit to harass, maim and kill these and other endangered animals that belong to us it’s time to indict and remove the people causing these permanent harms. You know, California condors aren’t renewable, when they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      The US Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services are completely different agencies. USFWS is an agency in the Department of Interior and administers the Endangered Species Act and several Wildlife Refuges. USDA Wildlife Services is an agency in the Department of Agriculture and they are the agency you are referring to. Don’t confuse the two.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Thank you so much for your comment.

      As Ken Cole says there is a confusion of agencies here.

      In the NRDC blog we refer to, the blog’s author actually refers to the Wildlife Services as “an Owellian” name because it is so different in most of its actions than what we are easily led to think.

      U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in DOI, is however, the subject of WWP’s lawsuit. They don’t always stand tall defending wildlife.

  4. Snaildarter Avatar

    The Department of Agriculture should have nothing to do with public lands. . They are farmers they view public lands as something to exploit. Wildlife are just in the way unless they can be hunted. This Sheep nonsense is one more step in the wrong direction.
    Also the forest service should be moved into the Department of Interior.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Also the forest service should be moved into the Department of Interior.


  5. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    Very reasonable and wise suggestions, SnailDarter.


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