Harry Soulen, the principal of Soulen Livestock, the sheep ranching operation out of Weiser that’s tangled in the controversy over bighorn sheep, signed a modified grazing permit in February 2011. That permit would end grazing in part of the Soulen’s grazing area this year as a part of a plan to separate domestic sheep from bighorns to prevent disease transmission.
But later that Republican Rep. Mike Simpson included a rider in a 2012 appropriations bill that limited the Forest Service spending would “result in a reduction in the number of domestic livestock permitted to graze on … (national forest) allotment or in the distribution of livestock on the allotment.” The Forest Serice told the Soulens that based on the rider it would not force them to give up part of their grazing in 2012.
However, the rider specifically set the date for its limit to impose restrictions in excess of those in place July 1, 2011. Since Soulen signed his permit modification in February 2011, environmental groups are suing the Forest Service in federal court challenging its decision to back off its grazing cutback, which was official four months earlier.
The Wilderness Society, Western Watersheds Project and the Hells Canyon Preservation Council brought the suit Monday.
Overall, the case rests on disease risk modeling done by biologists both in and out of the Forest Service that showed domestic sheep posed an undue risk of passing disease on to the bighorn sheep.