Settlement reached in lawsuit over illegal sheep grazing in Yellowstone ecosystem

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Source: Environmental News Network (ENN)

The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project reached a settlement this week with the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in eastern Idaho to resolve a lawsuit filed last summer. The settlement requires the U.S. Sheep Station to analyze the environmental effects of the sheep grazing under the National Environmental Policy Act and to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impacts of the sheep grazing on threatened and endangered species. The Sheep Station is part of the Agricultural Research Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The presence of these thousands of domestic sheep, and management actions taken on their behalf, harms sensitive and endangered native wildlife such as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, lynx, gray wolves, and grizzly bears - and yet these impacts have never been examined on the thousands of acres that are directly managed by the U.S. Sheep Station in southeastern Idaho and southwestern Montana. Analysis of impacts on the even larger tracts of national forest and Bureau of Land Management public lands is decades out of date and was cursory.

Diseases transmitted from domestic sheep threaten bighorn sheep herds. 'The largest concentration of bighorn sheep in the world is jeopardized by the lawless grazing that has been taking place,' said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Lynx, wolves, and grizzly bears are further at risk from the sheep grazing by predator control measures, since steel leghold traps and strangulation snares, aerial gunning, and poisons are all typically used to prevent wildlife from preying on domestic sheep.

The U.S. Sheep Station was established in 1915, and the National Environmental Policy Act was enacted in 1970, so this environmental analysis is decades overdue. 'The door will now be open to allow members of the public to learn about how this experiment station's programs affect wildlife,' said Robinson. 'This settlement will allow people aside from the agencies and livestock industry to participate and submit their opinions on how these lands should be treated.'

The U.S. Sheep Station itself manages about 48,000 acres, where it has been grazing sheep without any environmental analysis or consideration of adverse impacts to endangered species. The Sheep Station also grazes sheep on over 54,000 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Many of the environmental impacts take place within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as well as within habitats that wildlife use in attempting to travel between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the large wilderness and roadless areas of central Idaho.

'If these experiments are indeed necessary, there must be a more appropriate place than within such important habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and other wildlife,' said Jon Marvel, director of the Western Watersheds Project.

Under the settlement agreement, the environmental analysis is required to be completed by November 28, 2008.

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