Sheep groups say Forest Service ignored laws, science


Capital Press

The Idaho Wool Growers Association, four individual sheep ranchers and 18 other organizations have filed an appeal to the July 20 decision of Payette National Forest Supervisor Suzanne Rainville to curtail domestic sheep grazing on the forest.

Rainville's decision would reduce sheep grazing by about 70 percent, forcing sheep ranchers dependent on public-lands grazing allotments out of business, said Stan Boyd, executive director of Idaho Wool Growers.

The decision was based on a supplemental environmental impact statement and what the appeal states as the "hypothetical" transmission of disease from domestic sheep to wild bighorn sheep.

Nonetheless, the decision would designate an additional 346,696 acres as bighorn habitat and reduce grazing area for domestic sheep by 68,718 acres over a three-year period.

The appeal, filed Sept. 10, lists a litany of violations and inadequate analysis by the Forest Service in its decision.

"They violated a lot of guidance and policies on how to manage open space," said Bill Myers, an attorney with Holland and Hart in Boise, who is representing the appellants.

The appeal states the decision and the environmental impact statement on which it was based violate the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, National Forest Management Act, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act, and Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Those mandates provide for multiple use, modification but not elimination of grazing and compensation for lost grazing. In eliminating grazing and offering no alternative grazing lands, the agency is exceeding it's regulatory authority, the appeal contends.

"Multiple use concept is no longer being followed by Forest Service management," Boyd said. "The focus is no longer on food and fiber. They're focusing on recreation and wildlife."

The decision also violates the Forest Service's own guidance, policy and agreements for management of the Payette, ignoring a memorandum of understanding between the agency and the state to develop strategies to separate the domestic and wild sheep.

It also breaks the agency's agreement in the Hells Canyon Initiative of 1997 that sheep producers would not be harmed by bighorn transplants to the forest.

"They made absolutely no effort to find alternative range or compensate (ranchers)," Boyd said. "Somehow, the Forest Service just can't find any range."

With roughly 24 million acres of Forest Service land in Idaho, it doesn't make sense the agency can't find range for 100,000 head of sheep, he said.

The appeal also points out the Forest Service relied on and cited in its decision two documents prohibited for consideration in the decision by a court ruling.

The appeal also claims the Forest Service did not comply with National Environmental Policy Act guidelines in writing the environmental impact statement.

NEPA calls for informed decision making, public participation and scientific integrity, and the agency did not properly address the unavailability of scientific knowledge of disease transmission and did not use the best available science, Myers said.

Finally, the appeal states the decision is arbitrary and capricious because it fails to consider the most important aspect of the issue -- that the decision is unlikely to control disease transmission as other livestock, wildlife and bighorn also carry pathogens and transmit disease.

The appeal will be reviewed by the regional forester in Ogden, Utah.

"We're confident the points we've made are valid and the regional forester will make the right decision," Myers said.

"The Forest Service seems to turn a blind eye to reason. I would hope they'd moderate their position," Boyd said.

The appeal is available at .

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