Groups File Notice of Intent to Sue Over Sheep Experiment Station.

Bozeman, MT. Today five conservation groups Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Gallatin Wildlife Association and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation sent the U.S. Department of Agriculture a notice of intent to sue for its failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the effects of sheep grazing on the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station on the Montana/Idaho border.

In 2010 the agency (Sheep Station) promised (issued a public notice) that it would complete the environmental review, but instead it has unlawfully delayed completion of the review. This EIS and decision affects bighorn sheep and grizzly bears. The potential appellent conservation groups want sheep grazing stopped until the EIS analysis is complete.

Biologists have identified the Centennial Mountains of the Continental Divide as an important travel corridor for grizzly bears because it connects Yellowstone National Park with the large wilderness areas in Idaho. These have been determined to have ample grizzly bear habitat, but no grizzly bears. The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station has been using this land since 1915 to graze thousands of domestic sheep, and there have been several grizzly bear mortalities in the area in the recent past.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, BLM, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Idaho Fish and Game sent a joint letter to the Sheep Station in 2012 asking them to find an alternative area to graze sheep. “The Sheep Experiment Station has become a death trap for grizzly bears,” said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “We hope that our action will prompt that U.S. Government to reconsider its priorities of domestic sheep over wildlife.”

In the fall of 2012, the collar from a grizzly bear was found in a stream under a rock on Sheep Station property. An empty rifle cartridge was recovered from the sheep herder’s camp and hunters were ruled out as suspects. The conservation groups subsequently challenged the Biological Opinion for the Sheep Station, which concluded that the federal facility was not jeopardizing grizzly bears. The government settled the case and agreed to issue a new biological opinion by June 2014.

The conservation groups’ notice says they will file the lawsuit if the Sheep Station attempts to graze before the EIS is completed. “It should not take 4 years to prepare an Impact Statement,” said John Meyer, Executive Director of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. “We are asking the federal government to hold off on grazing domestic sheep in important wildlife habitat until it has fully analyzed the environmental impacts of its operations.”

Glenn Hockett, President of Gallatin Wildlife Association, said “The Centennial Mountains offer some of the most remote public lands and best bighorn sheep habitat in North America.” Ken Cole, NEPA coordinator for Western Watersheds Project, said that “There is a high risk that the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station’s domestic sheep will transmit deadly pneumonia to bighorn sheep.” The Bureau of Land Management stopped allowing the Sheep Station to graze on one of its allotments in 2012 because of bighorn concerns.

The Wildlife News has published numerous article on the Sheep Station and its effects on wildlife.
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Notice of Intent to Sue- pdf


  1. Nancy Avatar

    Another good piece on the subject from Larry Zuckerman back in 2011:

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      The Berniece allotment, a BLM allotment, was closed to sheep grazing and the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station hasn’t found a replacement allotment. The BLM has stopped looking for one.

  2. Theo Chu Avatar
    Theo Chu

    Conservatives claim they look for places to cut wasteful spending, so how can they ignore this relic from bygone times? It has clearly been proven domestic sheep transmit fatal disease to bighorn. What additional experiments do we need to conduct on sheep anyway? They are hardly shrouded in mystery. Shutter the place and permanently retire their allotments.

  3. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    After 100 years of existence, what is the continued purpose and need of the experiment station?

    There are always two sides to the issue, but this one seems hard to understand why a federal agency would continue to graze sheep in areas identified as important corridors for threatened species such as grizzlies and soon to be listed wolverines, bighorn sheep and other species with large home ranges. I’m mystified why the sheep station continues to graze sheep over the objection of a joint letter from agencies two years ago.

  4. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    “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.”

    Here is a site to see what their current projects are:

    I hope the groups are successful with their lawsuit.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    As I recall, about the only thing the sheep experiment station has found of any interest is that a fair percentage of the domestic rams in their herd exhibit exclusively homosexual behavior.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      🙂 Read somewhere with regard to animal behavior, that could be a sign of dominance.

    2. CodyCoyote Avatar

      gud gawd…please do not tell the Conservatives that they are subsidizing this kind of behavior ! Next thing you know those rams will want to marry each other….

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I know you meant this as a joke, but we seem to confuse human political agendas with wildlife issues. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen it here, where certain topics are sensitive and shouldn’t be.

        Wolf biology – same sex pairs can’t reproduce.

        Genetically pure bison – not Nazi-ism but endangered species.

        1. Ida Lupines Avatar
          Ida Lupines

          So you can see how easy it is to become trapped in the minefield of political correctness these days.

  6. harry Avatar

    I know the Centennial Mt, appear to be very good bighorn habitat, but you need to think about winter range before you kick the sheepherder off. We have execellant summer range in the Madison, and we are heading for big problems in winter. You may want to take a good look at snowfall over there before you take your bighorns there.

    thanks Harry

    1. Elk375 Avatar

      That is exactly what the Wild Sheep foundation thinks. Those mountains get to much snow in the winter and there is limited winter range. The Centennials Mountains would be good mountain goat habitat.


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