Bighorn Meeting

Monday afternoon (1/7/08), the first of a bighorn/domestic sheep working group convened to mull over an interim state policy to inform management of “separation” between domestic and wild sheep next grazing season. Agency attendees included Forest Service, BLM, Idaho State Department of Agriculture, IDF&G, and Idaho Department of Lands. Domestic sheep interests included the Idaho Wool Growers Association, the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (sic) and a few individual domestic sheep-men. The Shoshone-Bannock were in attendance as were the Nez Perce. Conservationists attending included the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and a group of rabble-rousing Western Watersheds Project rationalists.

The collaboration got kicked off with a bit of context. A moderator explained that following an initial December meeting, the governor of Idaho, “Butch” Otter, decided to make the working group public. Conditions of the meeting were set by the governor. Otter requires a completed interim plan by February 15, the state will have a policy whether the working group produces or not, and that implementation of the working group’s product is at the discretion of the governor.

Next, it was explained that the working group was to address the interim separation of bighorn sheep from domestic sheep ~ not disease. Disease was to be addressed at a later date in a different forum. The room was then opened for suggestions.

Of particular note was a sheepman’s response to a suggestion made by members of the working group for the 9 mile buffer zones of separation recommend for consideration by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Wild Sheep Working Group Recommendations for Domestic Sheep and Goat Management in Wild Sheep Habitat. At the suggestion to apply “science” the group of sheepman vocally scoffed. One sheepman’s follow-up was particularly enlightening, he suggested a 9-mile “No Bighorn Zone” surrounding domestic sheep. Should bighorn sheep cross into the “No Bighorn Zone” the state would remove the bighorn.

Interesting … it looks as if this is the direction sheepmen are moving …

Mission Statement

The moderator decides to use Wyoming’s bighorn/domestic sheep working group mission statement as a template for Idaho’s. The room was opened for suggested amendments. A member took issue with language “maintain the economic viability of the domestic sheep industry in Idaho” present in the mission statement. A sheepman suggested that if WWP wanted to get personal, he would be happy to discuss WWP in personal terms. The member had not gotten “personal” in the comment. A representative with the domestic sheep industry follows up with an anti-WWP comment a bit later adding to it by riffing on a line about the price of wool skyrocketing given the military (?) and Idaho’s sheep providing half of the country’s lamb.

Eventually, a moderator sensing threat to “consensus,” reminds everyone that the mission statement is of no real consequence. The mission statement :

Idaho Bighorn Sheep/Domestic Sheep Working Group
Mission Statement
January 7, 2008
Idaho Mission Statement:
– It is the goal of the Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Working Group to maintain and restore bighorn sheep populations without harming the domestic sheep industry in Idaho.

***We break for coffee, soda, water and cookies***

Returning, the floor is re-opened to suggestions to add to the list that has been taken for bighorn/domestic sheep “policy”.

It is asked whether the group is just spinning its wheels – what can the state really do to encourage “separation” on the domestic sheep end to affect Annual Operating Instructions or federal management given the sheep are on federal allotments and managed by federal agencies? The respondent spins his wheels for a few minutes, then passes the question to FS & BLM, both of whom suggest that the respective agencies might be willing to entertain state suggestion and cooperation with regard to federal grazing management decisions – no specifics as to how that would manifest. Sheepmen interject ~ making the point that bighorn – all wildlife – are the property of the state of Idaho. Uh-oh … So the control the sheepman believe to have is over the bighorn.

Of note, members of the sheep growers in the room just had to slip in that one producer had 300 of their sheep taken by wolves one year. Yeah ~ that “loose” herding technique’s working out for them. Assuming they were even half honest about the numbers ~ at one point several domestic sheep came up short on count ~ wandering bighorn country. This just goes to show exactly how closely these domestic sheep are being controlled on federal allotments. They’re not being watched closely at all and for bighorn, that’s a dangerous reality. Let’s hope our predator friends got at them all quickly…

Among the more general considerations of the meeting were buyouts, impacts of slaughtering bighorn sheep on watchable wildlife and hunting interest, impacts on federally reserved treaty rights, etc.

Discussion:

Given the proceedings of the working group are entirely discretionary on the part of the governor, it will be interesting to see how the Idaho Bighorn Sheep/Domestic Sheep Working Group compares to the governor’s “policy.” Given the tone of the lion’s share of sheepmen in attendance, they’re looking to “remove” bighorn – push them out of the way to maintain domestic sheep predominance on public lands. How they do this given most of the allotments are federal is key. As was mentioned at the meeting, the land is federal and thus the regulation of domestic sheep is of federal concern, the state’s input is bounded by federal management decisions. But, domestic sheep interests made sure to affirm that bighorn are the property of the state and given the pull of interested parties on the governor, it’s looking like a lot of bighorn sheep are going to die or be otherwise removed from federal public lands.

Next meeting is January 22nd, comments on the aggregation of ideas are due on the 14th of January.

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