Conservationists Settle Lawsuit Against Experimental Sheep Station After Grizzly Goes Missing.

Bozeman, Mont.—Conservation groups entered into a settlement agreement today that will require the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a new Biological Opinion before grazing domestic sheep this summer in southwest Montana. Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Native Ecosystems Council and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Idaho last summer after a collared grizzly bear went missing from the Sheep Station property.

The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station is run by the Agricultural Research Service and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The research facility was established in 1915 and grazes two thousand sheep every summer high on 16,000 acres of land in the Centennial mountains of southwest Montana and eastern Idaho. Biologists have identified the Centennial mountains as an important travel corridor for Yellowstone grizzly bears because they run east to west and can connect the bear population to large unoccupied wilderness areas in Idaho.

In the fall of 2012, the collar of grizzly #726, a four year old male, was found in a creek under a rock on Sheep Station property in the Centennial mountains. The bear’s last known location was at the same area as where the sheep were being grazed and the collar was approximately one mile from the sheep herders’ camp. A spent rifle cartridge was retrieved from the sheep herders’ camp. Hunters were ruled out as suspects by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but the sheep herders were never questioned. The conservation groups are offering a $6,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for killing the bear. People with information should contact Montana FWP at 1-800-TipMont.

The conservation groups’ lawsuit challenged the Biological Opinion, which states that “no known grizzly bear mortalities have occurred in or near the action area in the recent past.” Cottonwood Environmental Law Center obtained meeting notes between the Fish and Wildlife Service and Sheep Station through a Freedom of Information Act request that state “within the past 8 years, there have been several grizzly bear mortalities nearby the Sheep Station.” According to John Meyer, Executive Director of Cottonwood and the attorney for the groups, “It is hard to believe that the Sheep Station did not illegally kill the collared grizzly bear when it lied to the public about other grizzly bear mortalities in its environmental documents.” Cottonwood also received Freedom of Information Act documents that state grizzly bears have defended sheep carcasses by chasing sheep herders around the grazing allotments in the past.

The conservation organizations are not the only ones critical of the Sheep Station’s decision to graze sheep in grizzly bear country. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee sent a letter to the Sheep Station in 2012 suggesting the research facility seek replacement lands outside of the known grizzly bear use areas in the Centennial Mountains to reduce conflicts. The Subcommittee consists of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. According to Meyer, “The Sheep Station is a grocery store for grizzly bears looking for an easy meal. Every state and federal agency that has weighed in has told the Sheep Station to find alternative grazing allotments. The Sheep Station needs to stop grazing in this important grizzly bear area.”

“The US Sheep Experiment Station has long outlived its usefulness to the American taxpayers and continues to be the cause of conflict with many imperiled species from grizzly bears to grayling to bighorn sheep. These many conflicts, and the attempts by the Sheep Experiment Station to cover them up, leads me to believe the Station should be shuttered and its lands incorporated into the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to be repurposed to conserve wildlife.” Ken Cole NEPA Coordinator -­‐ Western Watersheds Project


  1. LM Avatar

    What could they possibly be researching about sheep after 100 years of research ? Also, I don’t understand the market for sheep/lamb. Americans are not big lamb eaters and it is very pricey. Does it mostly serve an overseas market ? I’ve heard that most of the wool produced in NW Colorado is shipped overseas and recently I heard that ewe lambs were being shipped out to Russia and elsewhere as seed stock.

    1. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      I have asked the same question about where do these lambs go. All the lamb in our local Safeway store comes from New Zealand. Lamb chops were being advertised for $10/pound this past weekend and contain about 3 bites of meat per chop.

      Hopefully the area is turned over to the USFW as part of the local wildlife refuge system.

    2. rork Avatar

      I have objections to every sentence LM wrote.

  2. Snaildarter Avatar

    I hope this closes it. Cheap Australian and New Zealand lamb has put a lot of pressure on US producers and helped wildlife in America as an unattended consequence.

  3. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    There is allot of slander in this article. Please stick to the facts, not your unsupported opinions.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    The Sheep Experiment Station produces very little in the way of published research.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Can someone explain to me how the University of Idaho can be the designated owner of the domestic sheep at the station and how the U of I is able to collect federal subsidies for wool and meat on these sheep?

    Are the herders U.S. citizens or does the U of I hire Peruvian herders like the rest of the woolgrowers in Idaho?

    1. LM Avatar

      And, how do they get research $ w/out having to publish their research ?

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      The federal government is restricted from ownership of the sheep so they use UofI sheep. It’s quite a shady deal if you ask me but….

      As far as the herders, I was told by the USSES management they hire Chilean herders because, in the minds of the management, they are better than the others. Yeah, I know…..

  6. WM Avatar

    Here is a link to the published works by year (only 2013 shown), which appear to be generated by research done or scientists stationed there. About half the publications are peer reviewed, and are published in scientific or trade journals of some type. Their website also says they employ about 15-20 people, and maybe some are the better paying jobs in this part of ID. Just sayin’.

    Government facilities, like anyone in private business, ought to be required to justify their existence, and the expenditures on their functions, every couple years. Can these guys do it on some kind of cost-benefit analysis, or should they just go away?

  7. LM Avatar

    It would probably take a Constitutional Amendment to require them to use cost-benefit analysis and then they’d have to be sued to force them to do it.

  8. RangeHippie Avatar

    THis is the ARS-Agricultural Research Service, and its research is not only sheep although they did develop 3 of the most utilized breeds today in the Western US. Their Rams are sold for breeding purposes. THe other half of the research they do is related to Rangelands. It is not all about meat and wool people. Can we use sheep to graze noxious weeds to eliminate them instead of lots of herbicides? How soon after a fire can livestock graze without effecting bio-diviersity adversely? The effects of Fire and its frequency on Sage brush? You might say who cares about sage brush well Sage grouse do which this station has a HUGE # of on their lands which have not been adversely effected by the sheep grazing. ISU does GIS research along with other federal agencies that work with them because this station is dedicated to Research, not just the production of sheep. And as for the herders well, quite literally they cannot find people in the US that are willing to do the job and capable of doing it. This is a RESEARCH station first. IT does not have the same mandates as the USFS, BLM, or USFWS.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I understand that the USSES does research on other issues and some of that research is useful but so much of the fire stuff isn’t being used. I went on one of the tours a few years back and they gave us their propaganda about how important their work was but I don’t ever see it being implemented on the ground. The researchers doing the fire studies didn’t seem to understand that the BLM and US Forest Service totally ignore any of the recommendations about grazing after a fire. They were all under the impression that they wait 5 years before allowing grazing but I have never seen them wait longer than two growing seasons or 1 1/2 years. It’s ridiculous.

      Also, I was lied to on many occasions while investigating the activities of the USSES. It wasn’t just me either, it was the people who were hired to do the NEPA work as well. They were resentful about it and it happened on several occasions. Why were they so evasive and deceitful? Look into Q fever and see what they tried to cover up in their Environmental Impact Statement. Read some of the other articles here about the USSES and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s more like a top secret military installation than a research station.

      There are plenty of other places to do research that could be applied to rangeland studies where bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, wolves, sage grouse and pygmy rabbits won’t be adversely affected. I stand by my assertion that this station should be closed and handed over to the USFWS.

    2. Ken Watts Avatar
      Ken Watts

      Thanks, RangeHippie. I live a few miles from the Sheep Experiment Station and I know they provide lots of value to our area and the Nation. It is deplorable to suggest that these good people killed a grizzly.

      1. John Meyer Avatar
        John Meyer

        A FWS employee has hinted that the Sheep Station may be responsible for killing grizzly bear #726.

        “Who are your most likely candidates? I say hunters, and after that, probably the sheep herders. And we interviewed all the hunters that came in through our park area,” West said, adding that the bear is presumed dead.

  9. John Avatar

    Here is the mission statement for USSES:
    19 Office Loop
    Dubois ID 83423
    The mission of the USDA, ARS, U.S. Sheep Experiment Station is to develop integrated methods for increasing production efficiency of sheep and to simultaneously improve the sustainability of rangeland ecosystems.

    Further looking at their website the majority of the 15 people working there are animal specialists. Last 2 years of research publications relate only to sheep

    1. MAD Avatar

      and not only that…you have to look at the actual “research publications” they have.

      More than half are reports and not peer-reviewed in scientific journals. All of the peer-reviewed articles are continuations of previously published articles. Look at 2, 3, and 4 yrs ago and you see the same “research” published. Shocking, nothing new. In fact, if they do such great work there whynus there still overgrazing by sheep, transmission of disease to native wildlife and killing of natural predstors for these furry range maggots. Additionally, considering there are over a dozen “scientists” and millions of dollars sunk into that place, putting out 4-6 professional articles a year is pathetic. I know individuals scientists who put out that many articles per year.

      That whole Station is a scam, and is indicative of local political corruption wholly supported by the uniformed locals and ranching community.

  10. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    I do not like the way that livestock are grazed on public lands in the West, especially in high elevation country and that inhabited by endangered species.

    This research station has developed 3 breeds of sheep that are better producers than others used in the area, Targhee, Columbia, and Polypay, the most recent.


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.

We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ken Cole