Policy Analysis Group Releases Idaho Sheep Report

Monday, February 22 2010

Written by Ken Kingery

MOSCOW, Idaho – A report from the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources Policy Analysis Group (PAG) details the current situation with Idaho’s Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and domestic sheep populations.

The peer-reviewed report outlines the varying issues surrounding bighorn sheep viability and domestic sheep grazing. It provides background on the issue for Idaho citizens who currently have an opportunity to evaluate new risk and economic analysis information released by the U.S. Forest Service in late January. The PAG report provides context for this new information.

After the public comment period on the Forest Service information closes on March 19, the Payette National Forest Supervisor’s Office will make a decision on an amendment to the Land and Resource Management plan that deals only with providing viable habitat for bighorn sheep. Specific rules for grazing will be determined at a later date, but the land-use allocation decision in the plan amendment is crucial.

“That decision could affect public land grazing of domestic sheep in all of the western states,” said Jay O’Laughlin, director of the PAG, and professor of forestry and policy sciences at the University of Idaho.

The issue is complex because there are many different viewpoints involved from different levels of government and from private sector stakeholders. The federal government is responsible for maintaining 90 percent of the bighorn sheep’s current habitat and is charged with ensuring it can support viable wild sheep populations, while the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is charged with managing wildlife populations in the state.

The report does not identify alternatives to Idaho’s current situation, but O'Laughlin said he and co-author Philip Cook hope the information will help Idahoans understand the full range of issues as a way is sought to sustain viable bighorn sheep populations and domestic sheep operations throughout the state.

At the crux of this is the issue of separating the two species of sheep due to the “contact hypothesis,” which states bighorn sheep have a high likelihood of contracting fatal respiratory disease following contact with domestic sheep. Though most scientists accept the hypothesis, a few do not and believe the likelihood of disease transmission is low.

The Idaho PAG report includes a summary of this science issue, which was commissioned and published by the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology in 2008. The CAST peer-reviewed report recognizes that interaction between the two species under range conditions increases the probability of bighorn sheep mortality and supports a broad management approach that includes preventing contact.

In addition to the disease issue, there are other aspects that shape the development of policy, including the economic health of the domestic sheep industry and Native American cultural traditions and rights involving bighorn sheep.

In the report, Angelique EagleWoman, professor of law at the University of Idaho, explains the laws that require careful judicial interpretation and implementation through a government-to-government relationship with the state.

The report is available online: www.cnrhome.uidaho.edu/documents/BHS-DS_1-29-10.pdf?pid=118586&doc=1.

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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. The university is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.