Bighorn Sheep — Hells Canyon and Salmon River

Bighorn Sheep — Hells Canyon and Salmon River

Current Status:

Case Title:
WWP v. US Forest Service, 07-cv-151-BLW (D. Idaho).

Staff attorney(s):
Laurie Rule


Western Watersheds Project

To Protect:

Bighorn Sheep

Date won/settled:
June 14, 2012



Victory for Payette National Forest’s bighorn sheep!

June 14, 2012

In a court hearing yesterday, Judge Winmill ruled from the bench in favor of protecting bighorn sheep on the Payette National Forest.

The Forest Service had decided in 2010 to close almost 70% of the Payette National Forest to domestic sheep grazing to protect the native bighorn populations in the area from disease carried by domestic sheep, and phased those closures in over three years.  However, the agency did not implement the planned closures for 2012 in reliance on language from an appropriations rider introduced by Representative Mike Simpson.

Advocates for the West’s Senior Attorney Laurie Rule represented Western Watersheds Project, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, and The Wilderness Society in challenging the Forest Service’s decision to authorize grazing on allotments that were scheduled to be closed in 2012.The Court found that the Forest Service’s interpretation of the rider was not reasonable.  The plain language of the rider was clear that the Payette direction from 2010 should be carried out this year, and the evidence of Congressional intent likewise supported that reading of the rider.  The Court therefore granted the Plaintiffs’ injunction motion and grazing on these allotments will not occur this year, helping to protect these precious bighorn sheep populations.

Payette National Forest’s bighorn sheep are safe for now. Simpson’s rider expires at the end of 2012, and we will have to wait to see whether new rider language is introduced that puts the bighorn sheep back at risk. Unfortunately congressional riders are almost impossible to fight in court, unless they can be proven unconstitutional.

How can you help?

A Big, Big Bonehead…

Matt Wuerker, Laird Lucas’s college buddy and Politico cartoonist, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Check out Matt’s latest cartoon on bighorn sheep and ID Rep. Mike Simpson’s Congressional rider. Read more about our working protecting bighorn sheep in Idaho’s Payette Forest.

Update on bighorn sheep in Idaho

After gaining significant protections for bighorn sheep on the Payette National Forest due to Advocates for the West’s prior litigation in this case and the Forest Service’s own subsequent analysis, the Forest Service is now back-tracking and authorizing grazing in 2012 that puts bighorn sheep populations in the Salmon River Canyon at risk.

In a decision from July 2010, the Forest Service decided to close 70% of the Payette National Forest to domestic sheep use to protect bighorn sheep populations.

Now, instead of closing allotments that were scheduled to be closed this year, the Forest Service has misinterpreted a Congressional appropriations rider and is allowing domestic sheep to graze those allotments this summer.  Advocates for the West filed a preliminary injunction motion in Court to stop this grazing and require the Forest Service to act consistently with its own Plan and protect the native Salmon River bighorn populations.

Payette National Forest Issues Decision to Close Domestic Sheep Allotments

The Payette National Forest has issued its final EIS and Record of Decision that closes 70% of the domestic sheep allotments on the forest to protect bighorn sheep populations in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon.  This decision is the culmination of efforts by Advocates for the West and our clients to achieve protection for bighorn sheep in these areas by permanent closure of domestic sheep allotments within bighorn sheep habitat.  Numerous groups have appealed this decision, and Advocates for the West will likely be back in Court to continue the fight to protect bighorn sheep.

Payette FSEIS and ROD

Federal judge rules to protect bighorn sheep

Advocates wins a ruling in U.S. District Court protecting bighorn sheep. Judge Lynn Winmill ordered a western Idaho rancher to not graze domestic sheep on his BLM allotment.  The decision will protect wild bighorn sheep from catching deadly diseases which pose dire risks to entire bighorn populations.

Case Information:

We brought this case in March 2007 to prevent the Forest Service from authorizing domestic sheep grazing in allotments on Payette and Nez Perce National Forests that pose a “high risk” of spreading diseases that kill Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which are native to the Hells Canyon and Salmon River region of central Idaho.  Our litigation relies on science from the Forest Service and other agencies documenting that domestic sheep spread fatal diseases to bighorn sheep; yet political pressure prevented the agency from closing the allotments to protect the bighorn sheep populations.

In response to several injunction motions we filed, the Forest Service temporarily closed the allotments to sheep grazing; and is undertaking a new EIS process to close them permanently.