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Sheep Station Grazing Puts Predators at Risk

Online Messenger #278

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Western Watersheds Project and our co-plaintiffs have filed a second lawsuit aimed at preventing the Agricultural Research Station’s U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in southwest Montana from putting grizzlies and other native predators in harm’s way on the Summer West allotment. An earlier settlement agreement caused the agencies to reanalyze the effects of grazing, but a recent Biological Opinion woefully underestimates the impacts to grizzlies based on the faulty premise that the bears have not been in conflict with humans. In fact, there have been at least two recent incidents.

The Summer West allotment is within the Centennial Mountains, which are widely regarded by biologists as one of the most important travel corridors for grizzly bears. The mountain range is unique because of its east-west configuration, allowing grizzly bears and other carnivores to travel between Yellowstone National Park and large wilderness areas in Idaho. Black bears, coyotes, foxes and entire packs of wolves have all been shot, trapped and aerially gunned down because of sheep conflicts at the Sheep Station.

Multiple government agencies have recognized the potential for conflict in the Centennial Mountains and Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Idaho Fish and Game working together as the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee sent a letter to the Agricultural Research Service in 2010 strongly encouraging an end to sheep grazing in the area. Two allotments were closed, but the Summer West allotment remains open and a trouble spot for native wildlife.

The Summer West allotment is also the site of the unresolved case of Grizzly #726 who was killed under suspicious circumstances in 2012. The bear’s cut telemetry collar was recovered in 2012 from under a rock in a creek in the Summer West allotment. Monitoring data and a law enforcement report say the domestic sheep and Grizzly #726 were in the same place at the same time. An empty .308 rifle cartridge was recovered from the sheepherders’ camp. According to the report, the sheepherders are only issued .308 caliber rifles. The report also says that sheepherders killed two black bears in the same area in 2012 that were killing sheep.

The Agricultural Research Station’s sheep grazing is endangering native wildlife and preventing the range from serving as a wildlife corridor. There is no good reason to continue the ‘experiment’ in how many native predators have to die to maintain the sheep operations.  At the very least, the agencies should admit that their deaths are effects of sheep grazing in the Centennials and environmental documents should honestly analyze those impacts.

Read a copy of the complaint here.

Thanks to attorney John Meyer of the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center in Bozeman and and the Law Office of Natalie Havlina in Boise for representing WWP in this case.

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