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Sheep graze at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. The Idaho Legislature has approved $200,000 in funding.

BOISE — Idaho lawmakers are showing their support for the USDA’s sheep experiment station near Dubois with $200,000 in ongoing state funding.

That money will be provided to the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and will be used to support two range research positions at the station.

CALS didn’t ask for the money in its fiscal year 2016 budget request but members of the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee who support the station were successful in getting it put into CALS’ research and extension budget.

The 20-member JFAC, which includes legislators from the Senate and House and sets funding levels, voted unanimously to appropriate the money.

USDA has targeted the station for closure and a diverse group of supporters and stakeholders has been fighting to keep it open.

In a letter to Congress, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said a lack of financial and human resources at the station is one of the reasons it is slated for closure.

Vilsack said that “reduced funding levels and staffing levels ... and increasing costs have contributed to the unsustainability of the ongoing research program at the (station).”

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, a JFAC member, helped lead the effort to get the $200,000 into CALS’ budget. Bair, a retired farmer, said the funding shows the USDA that Idaho is committed to helping keep the station open.

“It tells them the state of Idaho thinks it’s important and is willing to put some skin in the game on this thing,” said Idaho Wool Growers Association Executive Director Stan Boyd.

Boyd said the research station encompasses more than 48,000 acres in Idaho and Montana and covers three climate zones and numerous landscapes.

“It’s a perfect place to conduct research for the sheep industry,” he said. “It’s a real asset and it would be a real shame to lose that station.”

If the station remains open, the range research positions will work out of Dubois. If it’s closed, those positions will move to Salmon, said Rich Garber, director of industry and government relations for CALS.

The funding serves two purposes, one of which is “to make a statement that the state of Idaho has some skin in the game and that they see the value of that research center in Dubois,” he said. “The second thing is that it is an investment in further research on range issues.”

The $200,000 in state funding was applauded by the Idaho Cattle Association, which told its members in its regular newsletter that the station is crucial for Idaho’s cattle industry because it hosts “a century of data on grazing and sage grouse, something that has not yet been fully mined nor could ever be duplicated.”

Beyond the issue of whether or not the station remains open, “this is good policy that we have someone there studying rangeland issues,” Bair said.

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