If Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson is anything he’s stubborn.
That might explain why he has once again added a rider to an appropriations bill that would allow the Soulen Sheep Co. to graze domestic sheep in bighorn sheep habitat on the Payette National Forest. Last week U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the Forest Service reversal of its earlier decision to phase out grazing based on a 2012 rider was improperly done.
He issued a temporary restraining order, essentially preventing the Soulens from grazing their sheep on 7,700 acres of bighorn habitat. The issue is disease that biologists say is passed from domestic sheep to the wild bighorns, which don’t have the same natural immunity.
Despite Winmill’s order, the Soulens are still able to put their sheep out on 6,600 acres that is not scheduled to be closed until 2013. Simpson’s rider doesn’t try to overturn Winmill’s decision, but it would stop the final closure next year if passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.
What the Soulens want is a solution that doesn’t force them off their allotment. They point to promising research into vaccines that may protect the wild sheep but researchers say such break though medicine is 10 years off.
This sheep-bighorn conflict has grown in part because the sheep industry has hung on against all odds. Sheep ranching is once again profitable but the conflicts with bighorns, it once resolved with raw political power is no longer ignored.
The solution many wildlife managers support is the kind of zoning, which Wyoming has used with some success. Bighorns are allow to thrive in the mountains east and south of Yellowstone near Dubois, Cody and Jackson without domestic sheep.
But it has led to the hard to explain situation where domestic sheep are favored in the Bighorn Mountains to the east. Idaho tried to resolve its sheep issue with the same approach but there was nowhere ranchers agreed that bighorns should take precedence.
The Payette National Forest finally broke the deadlock with its 2010 ruling to phase out domestic sheep in bighorn habitat around Hells Canyon and the Salmon River. Simpson’s riders have been the Idaho Woolgrower’s Association’s last resort.
Simpson was unavailable for comment this morning.