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Why the Secretary of Agriculture Is Right to Try to Close Idaho's Sheep Experiment Station

Andrew Wetzler

Posted July 16, 2014

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Conservation biology has long taught us that if we want to preserve the few truly wild places left in North America we must, to the greatest extent possible, connect them.  Providing animals with easily accessible and relatively safe corridors and linkages between wild places allows them to travel freely, reestablish ancient migration patterns, replenish smaller populations with new blood, and adapt to new conditions, such as climate change.

So it was heartening to see the government take a major step to preserve one such linkage when Secretary Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would close its “Sheep Experiment Station,” which grazes thousands of sheep a year on allotments in the Centennial Mountains, a narrow range of rugged mountains that connect the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with wild and remote portions of central Idaho.  (You can see the mountains in the narrow band of green and red, in this map).  

Richard Walker and Lance Craighead, Analyzing Wildlife Movement Corridors in Montana Using GIS.gifTo put it mildly, sheep and wildlife corridors don’t mix.  Corridors are, by their nature, narrow, making it more likely that migrating animals will encounter any livestock grazed on them.  And sheep, relatively defenseless animals (even compared to cows), are particular temptations for predators such as grizzly bears and wolves.  Past conflicts with grizzly bears in these allotments are well-documented and entire wolf packs have been killed in the Centennials at the Sheep Station's behest. Domestic sheep are also a potent disease vector, able to spread deadly pneumonia to native bighorn sheep, which are present in the area, from miles away.

That’s why conservation groups have long called for the Sheep Station, which maintains a herd of over 3,000 sheep, to be closed.  Sending thousands of sheep up into this vital linkage between Idaho and Yellowstone every year simply made no sense, particularly at taxpayer’s expense.  As Secretary Vilsack pointed out when he announced the closure of the sheep station, not only does the station no longer perform important research, its continued operations cost the taxpayers close to $2 million dollars a year.  And I was heartened to see that the USDA will find jobs for most of the Sheep Station’s employees at other facilities.

Predictably, though, the sheep industry -- long used to government largess and getting its way in Washington -- is pushing back furiously on the closure announcement.  In fact, just today a subcommittee in the U.S. House has moved to block the proposed closure. That’s why Secretary Vilsak’s decision to close the Sheep Station shows real leadership: it’s always tough to close a federal facility, particularly when any agency does so against the wishes of one of its natural constituencies.  So, please, take a moment and send Secretary Vilsak an email or a short note and thank him for his decision. Wolves, grizzly bears, and bighorn sheep will be safer because of it:

You can write the Secretary here:

Tom Vilsack, Secretary

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave. SW

Washington, DC 20250

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Suzanne WillenerJul 16 2014 09:25 PM

This cannot happen....

Alice MillerJul 16 2014 09:30 PM

This massive herd of sheep should be moved to the owner's land and off the public land. My taxes should not be spent on a private owner's sheep.

Virginia GreggiJul 16 2014 09:31 PM

please work to save the wolves and Grizzlies.

Vivian BrienJul 16 2014 09:34 PM

This is total greed.

Natalia NouelJul 16 2014 09:40 PM

Please do the right thing for nature.

Joyce GradyJul 16 2014 09:43 PM

If we don't preserve the migration routes for all animals it will destroy a part of our eco system. It is mandatory the government that the migration patterns and let nature takes it coast.

Jacqueline EllisJul 16 2014 09:45 PM

Sheep do not belong on public lands. They require a great deal of resources to maintain. Disease spreads quickly.

It is way past time to restore the wildlife balance in this country - all wild animals have been pushed off natural habitats, especially the majestic wolves, bears and bighorns.

Wild life species are not the nuisance. We are.

Thank you Secretary Vilsak for making the right decision to close the sheep station. It is a step in the correct direction.

Laurie FreemanJul 16 2014 09:50 PM

Sheep should not be grazed on public lands nearby wildlife that they can infect.

lisa lockeJul 16 2014 09:59 PM

Please do the right thing please!!!

Patricia AshtonJul 16 2014 10:03 PM

Get those sheep off public land. The owner should not have the use of land paid for with our taxes. Not when you know he makes a profit from this large flock, and having free grazing land is a bonus for him. The wild wolves and bears need to have an environment where they can be what they are without being killed for being just that.

Christy RobertsonJul 16 2014 10:05 PM

For the benefit of native wildlife, please close the "Sheep Experimentation Station".

Amanda RakerJul 16 2014 10:05 PM

Save our land and wildlife

DanielleJul 16 2014 10:06 PM

Please don't do this. Wolves & Grizzlies need all the help they can get! There are already too many endangered animals & habitats.

Beverly RakowskiJul 16 2014 10:11 PM

Please get the sheep out of the wilderness so the wolves and the Grizzleys have a chance to survive. Don't cave in to the sheep industry. The sheep should be fed on private land.

Ellyse Adele VitielloJul 16 2014 10:20 PM

Please save our wildlife

Carol CaraJul 16 2014 10:21 PM

Thank you ! Closing the sheep station is the correct decision for animals and saving taxpayers money.

Anita MoloneyJul 16 2014 10:40 PM

Secretary Vilsack, Thank you for standing up and doing the right thing: close the Sheep Experiment Station. This is absolutely the right thing to do for taxpayers, for wildlife and for the long term health of the environment. Don't give in or give up. Stand strong.

Kitty SmithJul 16 2014 10:59 PM

Thank you close sheep station.. Grizzly, black bear, wolves need home and keep away from livestock areas.... Save taxpayers!

Gulie MolkenthinJul 16 2014 11:08 PM

The right action will save the bears, bighorn sheep, wolves and domestic sheep. Do what's RIGHT!

Jan GisslénJul 16 2014 11:19 PM

Why should American Taxpayers subsidize a narrow based agricultural industry to the detriment of our magnificent native wildlife? Wolves, Bears, Bighorn Sheep etc are our natural national treasures. The Centennial Mountain Experimental Sheep station needs to be closed and moved to private land where native wildlife cannot be harmed by domestic sheep grazing, and diseases.

chris MarshallJul 16 2014 11:36 PM

a Sheep " experiment" Station in wilderness habitat. Sheep will thrive nearly anywhere but indigenous animals are indigenous for obvious reasons.

Debra RaymondJul 16 2014 11:43 PM

Why should American Taxpayers subsidize a narrow based agricultural industry to the detriment of our magnificent native wildlife? Wolves, Bears, Bighorn Sheep etc are our natural national treasures. The Centennial Mountain Experimental Sheep station needs to be closed and moved to private land where native wildlife cannot be harmed by domestic sheep grazing, and diseases

Joni BardinJul 16 2014 11:43 PM

Please give our wildlife a fighting chance. Thank you.

Susan KnightJul 16 2014 11:50 PM

Yes, the Centennial Mountain Experimental sheep station needs to be closed and moved to private land. It is frustrating to me that my tax dollars are supporting someones private flock to the detriment of our wildlife including wolves and bears. I hope you will follow your initial intention.

Raymond BinionJul 17 2014 12:10 AM

Please get the sheep,off of this corridor.Return it to it,s wild state.

Luce CarrascoJul 17 2014 12:41 AM

Please don't remove this land as we need it for our wildlife to preserve for our future kids to learn about. 😇

Patricia ZolineJul 17 2014 02:16 AM

Please close the Centenniel Mountain Experimental Sheep Station, and return these privately owned sheep to their private owner's land. This is critical public land that should be dedicated completely to native wildlife. Allowing private use of this land-- especially to sheep,which do great damage to their grazing areas--is not acceptable. Please support the native wildlife in this area,and stop using taxpayer money to sustain this "experimental sheep station." Thank you.

Patti HollandJul 17 2014 02:23 AM

If every citizen isn't getting wool socks these sheep should be moved.

Alana BaconJul 17 2014 03:31 AM

All animals deserve a fair deal. In this instance the wildlife should be protected & the sheep moved to greener pastures.

Nancy HynesJul 17 2014 03:57 AM

Yes, close the sheep station and open the critical corridor for wildlife! Sheep will be fine grazing elsewhere; this critical corridor is key saving wolves, grizzly bears and native bighorn sheep

Jean FurlanJul 17 2014 07:37 AM

Yes. Please keep the sheep out of the sheep station and let the wild, native animals make use of this wild space.

Martha HahnJul 17 2014 08:41 AM

Close it. My taxes should not be spent on a private owner's sheep.

Elizabeth WilliamsJul 17 2014 09:48 AM

Dear Secretary Vilsak,

Thank you for your efforts to protect wildlife corridors. As we all know, our native wildlife suffers from many environmental threats. This is a important act toward maintaining a healthy habitat for native species.

Kathleen AckerJul 17 2014 11:23 AM

Close it, wildlife needs a safe corridor, sheep can eat on their own land, not public!!

Simona PiantieriJul 17 2014 01:02 PM

Wildlife needs a safe corridor

Michael BerndtsonJul 17 2014 01:55 PM

Why shut it down? There seems to be a lot of good that comes out of it.

The interface between wildlands and human encroachment is an important area of study. An important question may be, what will happen to the land after the station is closed? Another important question may be, is any of the adjacent land owned by someone with an interest in that land, should it become something else? If I were an Idahoan, I'd be more worried about encroachment of Ayn Randian Silicon Valley billionaires, general billionaires and millionaires providing service to billionaires bulldozing themselves a road for yet another giant house.

David MorresJul 17 2014 06:34 PM

Please close it. Wildlife needs the corridor.

Ludmila HoggJul 17 2014 08:02 PM

Close the experimental sheep station. They should be on private land. Leave the corridors open for the wild animals.

Kim TisonJul 17 2014 09:43 PM

Thank you for your wise humanitarian decision, mr. Secretary. Yours will be a lasting legacy!

Cecilia BannerJul 18 2014 12:42 AM

Close the sheep station, restore the more natural situation.

Lael BradshawJul 18 2014 01:07 AM

Please close the sheep station. It is way past time to give the land back to the wild. It belongs to the wild animals and they need the corridors to migrate and live. We have taken enough, its time to give it back.

KDIXTIGRE MogdamJul 18 2014 06:38 AM

The sheep can be moved. There are lots of other spaces suitable for research. The park & the animals who live there are wild, indigenous, and can't be moved as easily. (And only at much greater expense.) who's bright idea was I t to put the sheep so close to the natural foraging grounds of park animals?

Deborah GrupeJul 18 2014 11:32 AM

These sheep should be moved so that the critical migration corridor is preserved for wildlife, and so these privately-owned sheep can graze on private lands. Wild places are for wild animals, and our tax dollars shouldn't be misused for private gain, especially when it endangers the health and success of native species.

geralde ottoJul 18 2014 02:22 PM

In any country, where domestic sheep are kept, the ground gets destroyed. The only sheep you could have are the Karakul sheep, they do not overgrase and destroy, but nipple only on leave of healthy herbs and bushes, they never strip plants bare. It is amazing to see this. So please, get rid of these domestic sheep, in favour of the so precious and sensitive wildlife. Thank you for having the heart to fight for this.

Lise MontgomeryJul 18 2014 03:36 PM

Please safely move the sheep to private land, but don't kill, torture or torment them. Putting the sheep there was a questionable "experiment" in the first place, probably designed solely to benefit the owner of the sheep, and I don't know what purpose it was supposed to serve. Now return the corridor to the wildlife for which it was intended.

Amanda FarrisJul 18 2014 04:30 PM

Surely these sheep can graze elsewhere.

Debra EllsworthJul 18 2014 04:30 PM

By doing this with the sheep, you are disturbing the balance of nature. Stop at once!!!

Mary Ann ValdezJul 18 2014 10:53 PM

Help wildlife. Please close the sheep station.

Comments are closed for this post.


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