Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published August 16, 2011, 10:46 AM

Bighorn debate not just about Idaho

ENGELWOOD, Colo. — What do a textile worker in North Carolina, a lance corporal in Iraq, a young father from Peru and a restaurateur in New York have in common? Easy. They’re all part of the thousands of workers in the United States who owe their livelihoods and sometimes their lives to America’s sheep industry. And that’s why Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is right in seeking a “time out” in the environmentalists’ mad rush to destroy a quarter of that industry.

By: Margaret Soulen Hinson,

ENGELWOOD, Colo. — What do a textile worker in North Carolina, a lance corporal in Iraq, a young father from Peru and a restaurateur in New York have in common? Easy. They’re all part of the thousands of workers in the United States who owe their livelihoods and sometimes their lives to America’s sheep industry. And that’s why Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is right in seeking a “time out” in the environmentalists’ mad rush to destroy a quarter of that industry.

In 2007, those environmentalist groups began an effort to limit sheep grazing within a small area of Hell’s Canyon along Idaho’s western border. They were successful, with administrative and court decisions ordering the ultimate removal of 13,000 sheep from the Payette National Forest, all based upon unsubstantiated data that domestic sheep can spread a pneumonia-like disease to wild bighorn sheep in the open range.

Crossing into public land?

Now, they are hellbent to extend that decision to all public lands where domestic sheep may interact with their wild cousins. That would mean the removal of 43 percent of the sheep that graze on national forest land — that’s 23 percent of all domestic sheep in the country.

Lose that amount and you lose the basis of the industry itself — not only the sheep producers and their employees, but also the woolen mills, meat- packing facilities and even cosmetic manufacturers that use lanolin.

The facts are these. Domestic sheep and bighorns have lived in the same general neighborhoods for many years. While disease transmission has been documented in forced close confines, it never has been substantiated in the wild. In fact, there have been repeated die-offs of bighorns where there had been no possibility of interaction with domestic sheep.

Scientists are increasingly optimistic about a vaccine that will eradicate the disease and there are ongoing talks between biologists, bighorn enthusiasts and domestic sheep producers on how to best manage both species to further minimize the possibility of random contact.

Five-year delay proposed

That is the context within which. Simpson seeks a five-year delay in extending the Forest Service’s decision for a remote part of Idaho to the rest of the West.

As was the case in wolf management, the environmental community is overreaching without justification and Congress again is right to rein them in.

Predictably, these groups are screaming bloody murder, ignoring Simpson’s strong track record on their behalf and claiming his bias toward agriculture and natural resources industries.

However, when you recognize the value of wool uniforms to our troops, the increasing demand for lamb as a sustainable source of protein to feed the world and all the jobs that are dependent upon the humble sheep, that’s far beyond pandering to a local industry. That’s leadership. Simpson exemplifies it and we need it.

Editor’s Note: Soulen Hinson is an Idaho sheep producer and president of the American Sheep Industry Association.

Tags: