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The U.S. sheep industry is continuing its legal fight against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for its decision to eliminate 70 percent of sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest. 

Between 2010 and 2013, USFS permanently removed roughly10,000 head of sheep from their historic ranges on the Payette, allegedly based on concerns that disease transfer between domestic and Bighorn sheep is threatening the “viability” of Bighorn populations. 

The sheep industry challenged this decision in the courts, but an Idaho district court judge failed to overturn USFS’ decision in March of this year. Now, industry has decided to take its arguments to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Rolling back the Payette decision and model is hugely important because Forest Service is moving forward with similar models in forests across the region – and BLM has indicated they might follow suit,” said Amy Hendrickson, executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA). “If the Payette decision, which was based on inaccurate and inadequate data, gets duplicated across the Bighorn’s range on national forests that could destroy a quarter of the entire U.S. sheep industry.”

Wyo involvement

In 2012, WWGA joined several affected ranchers, Idaho Wool Growers, Colorado Wool Growers, American Sheep Industry Association and Public Lands Council in challenging USFS’ Payette decision. 

Industry fought the decision through the agency’s public comment and appeals process and sought relief from Congress before finally resorting to litigation. Despite Judge Tashima’s ruling against industry at the district court level, Hendrickson told the Roundup she feels they stand on solid ground with their arguments.

“We feel we have a strong case, but it wasn’t given the kind of consideration we expected from Judge Tashima,” she said. “We expected it to take time for him to learn the issues in the case, but the decision was handed down just a few weeks after he took on the case. We hope the appeals court will do a more thorough job.”

Challenge

In their challenge, industry made the case for a litany of procedural violations USFS made that ultimately led to an “arbitrary and capricious” decision that put several generations-old sheep ranches out of business. 

The crux of industry’s legal argument is that USFS used an inherently biased process to create a “risk assessment” model that was not founded in sound science. 

From there, industry claimed USFS continued to use an inadequate record basis that made assumptions that would hurt the sheep industry without exploring possibilities to mitigate that damage. Their legal challenge cites violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

“The USFS came up with this model without input from any industry representatives, and more importantly, it excluded USDA’s own disease research scientists. There was no openness or transparency to their meetings or to their science, which is required under FACA,” Hendrickson told the Roundup. “The data they used to come up with this model, which assumes that any contact between Bighorns and domestics will result in pneumonia die-offs in Bighorns 100 percent of the time, has not been shared with industry, so we can’t evaluate it.”

She continued, “Their model puts an inexplicable nine-mile buffer zone around historic domestic sheep ranges, which absolutely cannot be justified scientifically or logically – yet it has served to destroy several family operations.”

Federal intervention

In 2009, a federal judge directed USFS not to use the model created by its committee, declaring that the agency had violated FACA with their proceedings. 

In 2012, when it was apparent that USFS was continuing to make decisions based on their model, Congress stepped in. 

Congressional appropriators put a yearlong hold on any domestic sheep removals from the Payette and directed USFS to work with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service disease experts to come up with a more solid scientific basis for their bighorn decisions. 

However, USFS appears not to have heeded Congress’ direction, either. 

Not only have the Payette sheep removals gone forward, the agency has also indicated that other national forests may be moving to adopt similar policies. 

Scientific efforts

Meanwhile, said WWGA’s Hendrickson, industry is leading research efforts to ascertain what’s really causing Bighorn herd die-offs to determine what the true risk of disease transfer is between domestics and Bighorns and to develop a vaccine to address the concern.

“What the science shows us now is that there are a lot of factors playing into Bighorn herd die-offs,” said Hendrickson. “Other wildlife – including Bighorns themselves – carry the pathogens that cause illness in Bighorn sheep, so disease could be transmitted by other species and not just domestic sheep. If we really want to ensure long-term bighorn ‘viability’ then we need to find ways to build Bighorn immunity.”

Additional concerns

Hendrickson told Roundup that USFS’ lack of sound science was just one problem with the Payette decision. 

“There’s a real problem when Forest Service starts making decisions based on single-species management, even if we were to assume that domestic sheep grazing is 100 percent at fault for these Bighorn die-offs,” said Hendrickson. “The multiple-use statutes governing the federal land management agencies require that the agencies promote the continued use of these lands in a way that benefits the American people. That includes productive uses like grazing. Plus, there are long-standing grazing rights that can’t just be brushed aside because of a vague agency regulation like ‘species viability.’”

Viability

Hendrickson added that, contrary to agency claims, the concept of USFS ensuring “species viability” is found nowhere in the National Forest Management Act but only in the agency’s self-imposed regulations.

“There isn’t even a real understanding of what ‘viability’ means,” Hendrickson said, “so there’s really nothing keeping anti-grazing groups from suing based on their interpretation of that term – which was the case in this Payette situation. This all started because of a lawsuit coming from an anti-grazing group claiming that domestic sheep were harming Bighorn viability.” 

Moving forward

By Hendrickson’s estimation, the appeal process could take six months or longer.

“Meanwhile, we’ll keep fighting Forest Service – and the BLM for that matter – if they keep trying to repeat this model in other areas,” Hendrickson told the Roundup, “and we’ll keep asking Congress to intervene. We can’t just stand by and watch a way of life for our ranchers be destroyed.”

Theodora Dowling is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. She previously worked for Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Washington, D.C. and now writes from her family’s ranch in Northern California. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – In their annual award’s program, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, Wyoming Wildlife Foundation and Wyoming Board of Agriculture to honor those landowners who provide access to or through their lands for hunters and anglers. 

The awards program recognizes four landowners from across the state who contribute significantly to hunting and fishing within the Cowboy State. 

Wyoming Game and Fish Project Coordinator Mark Nelson said the Access Recognition Program is a way to show appreciation for landowners who allow sportsmen and women on their property to hunt or fish. 

“We extend a hearty thank you to these landowners. Thanks to them there are more places for individuals and families to get outside to enjoy wildlife and hunt and fish in Wyoming, in addition to helping Game and Fish manage the state’s wildlife resources,” Nelson said.

This year, Steve and Brenda Hovendick, Paul and Fran McAllister, Dee and Laurie Zimmerschied and Carson Benton were recognized during the 2018 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup Convention and Trade Show, and each received a $2,000 check for their work. 

Funding for the Access Recognition Program is provided by the sale of commissioner license and donations made specifically in support of the program. 

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s press release on the awards. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Riverton – “In the 1900s, there were 700 million acres of western grasslands that contained prairie dogs,” stated UW Extension Educator Mae Smith at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 11.

Today, there are approximately 2 million acres of prairie dog colonies across the West, with two species living in Wyoming.

Species identification

“The black-tailed prairie dog is the most abundant in Wyoming,” noted Smith.

The black-tailed species is slightly larger than white-tailed prairie dogs and can be identified by the black color at the tip of the tail.

“White-tailed prairie dogs hibernate during the winter, so if we drive out and see any this time of year, they are probably the black-tailed variety,” she added.

Both species have golden-brown fur, fairly short legs and well-developed claws on both front and hind feet.

“They also have sensory whiskers and fairly large eyes,” she said.

Prairie dogs are diurnal, meaning they are awake during the day, and they rely on their eyesight to look out for predators and other threats.

“They are highly social, and they can be seen talking and working together to solve problems,” she commented.

Damaging impact

Each animal can eat up to two pounds of grass and forbs per week, which can impact large tracts of land when a whole colony is present.

“Many people who have problems with prairie dogs are cattle producers. The rodents and cows have a dietary overlap of 64 to 90 percent,” Smith explained.

The rodents’ dirt mounds alone can destroy up to 10 percent of the vegetation in a colonized area, and a population can remove anywhere from 18 to 90 percent of available forage.

“Prairie dog towns can cover up to 1,000 acres or more, and each family, known as a coterie, can occupy nearly an acre,” she said.

A coterie typically contains one male, one to four females and all of their offspring less than two years of age.

“An interesting interaction with these rodents is with the Black-footed ferret,” noted Smith.

Black-footed ferrets are an endangered species that live in prairie dog tunnels and must be taken into consideration when controlling for pests.

“Producers are required to look for Black-footed ferrets in their area before they put out rodenticides,” she added.

Control

Producers should be sure to survey their land before use, but rodenticides have been shown to be effective in prairie dog control.

“Prairie dogs prefer short grass and grazed areas because with taller stubble or more leftover grass, they can’t see as well,” commented Smith.

If producers can leave taller vegetation on their properties, they will have less of a chance of attracting colonies to their land.

“Aluminum phosphide and gas cartridges are also fairly effective, but they can be expensive,” she noted.

Trapping is effective for small populations, and shooting may have limited success.

“They get pretty smart about it, so it’s not a good way to completely eliminate a population, but there are people who come from out-of-state and are willing to pay to hunt prairie dogs on producers’ land,” she explained.

Rodenticides

Rodenticides are probably the most effective control. 

Many rodenticides are anticoagulants, or blood-thinners, that create a vitamin K deficiency in the rodents.

“They tie up all of the vitamin K, which is what helps blood clot,” she said. “It doesn’t kill the animal right away, but it builds up until eventually the animal bleeds out internally.”

Warfarin, a common prescription in humans, was the first approved anticoagulant and remains one of the more popular rodenticides.

“Bromethalin impacts the nervous system, and the animal dies much more quickly,” she added.

Methods that create a vitamin D overdose cause calcium buildup in the blood, zinc phosphide reacts with air and water to create a toxic gas, and strychnine impacts the nervous system and causes paralysis.

Caution

“There are a lot of precautions that producers need to take if they are controlling the rodents themselves,” Smith stated.

Non-target poisoning, for example, is something that producers should be wary of, since pets can get sick from eating poisoned animals or become harmed from ingesting poison directly.

“The secondary risk to mammals and birds varies by active ingredient,” she commented.

She also warned producers to take caution when handling prairie dogs or other rodents.

“We want to avoid close contact as much we can,” she said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the pollinator “die off” situation is not as dire as some would have it.  The piece, titled “Call Off the Beepocalpyse: U.S. Honey Bee Colonies Hit a 20-Year High,” primarily notes that since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was designated in 2006, beekeepers have done an admirable job in replenishing their bees.

Writer Christopher Ingraham notes, “The number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies - that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers - is now the highest it’s been in 20 years."

Later in the article, Ingraham explains, because of the management practices beekeepers use to keep bees producing and healthy, the price of honey is on the rise.”

Many farmers rely on commercial beekeepers to keep their crops productive. During the Sheridan Research and Extension Center Field Day in mid-July, a pollinator panel primarily discussed ways to improve pollinator habitat. Beekeeper Cliff Reed started off his talk by noting that every one in three bites people eat comes directly from pollinators.

“Commercial bees are responsible for the food in this country,” he said, noting there are about 2.5 million hives in the country. “There is a lot of sweet corn being planted. Beekeepers should have a good year.”

Reed indicated that with CCD, he lost 1,100 of his 1,500 colonies of bees, certainly a real loss. But, as the Washington Post article indicated, beekeepers stepped up to the plate and are keeping up - at a cost.  Reed indicated that the varola mite is responsible for most of the bee losses, and because of that, cost of doing business have increased.

“We spent $66,000 on bees this spring,” Reed said. “Certainly the price of honey is up. The price of honey is critical for the commercial operator to survive.”

Everyone can do their part to ensure pollinators keep doing their jobs. Roger Stockton, Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Wyoming State Agronomist, suggested that a visit to a local Farm Service Agency office is a good place to start for someone interested in improving pollinator habitat.

“It’s important to use as many native species as possible. To encourage pollinators to stay and colonize, we should plant a variety of plants so we have some blooming in early spring, spring, mid-summer, late summer and fall,” Stockton said.

Stockton indicated farmers should plant multi-species cover crops and get diversity back in the soil by planting buckwheat, flax or sunflowers, to name a few.

“Plant about 30 percent grass, such as Sudan grass, millet or sorghum. We want to have a 30-foot wide strip of cover crop that we don’t harvest - just let it stand. Not only will the pollinators benefit, so will the wildlife.”

University of Wyoming Researcher Makenzie Benander presented her current research on mixes of annuals and perennials to improve pollinator health and provide a home for parasitoids.

“Flowering habitats have many benefits including supporting pollinators, improving biological control, soil conservation, water regulation compliance and aesthetics. Plan to plant in unused patches and pivot corners,” she said.

Benander noted that providing pollen and nectar is extremely important, as pollen provides protein and nectar, a carbohydrate source. She is currently researching how natural enemies can decrease alfalfa weevils and increase yields.

She encouraged those interested in bee conservation to visit the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at xerces.org.

Information on voluntary Farm Bill programs for pollinator conservation is available. Visit the nrcs.usda.gov website to find programs, assistance and land eligibility requirements.

Rebecca Colnar is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Prairie dog management across Wyoming, and particularly in the Thunder Basin National Grasslands, provides constant concern for landowners and federal lands managers alike. 

In a recent meeting between landowners, Forest Service and the Weed and Pest Control Districts in Campbell, Converse and Weston counties, the parties reviewed current prairie dog numbers, recent control efforts, as well as documented new, emerging colonies encroaching onto private property. 

Making progress

Slade Franklin, Weed and Pest coordinator with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, noted that there are a number of parties from both sides of the fence that are interested in prairie dog management on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. Some of those groups would rather not see the prairie dog managed as a pest.

“We are still talking about the same issues we have been discussing the last two years,” says Franklin, “but with the help of the Governor’s office we are slowly starting to see the Forest Service reconsider their management program in relation to the local landowners, Weed and Pest and County Commissioner concerns. That said we still are a long way off from solving the problem.”

“Things are progressing very well,” adds Converse County Weed and Pest District Supervisor Cheryl Schwartzkopf. “The Forest Service and landowners have all been great to work with. We are moving forward and going to treat some more this year.”

“Last year, we did get to do some control work, and this year, we’ll get to do some more,” comments Weston County Weed and Pest District Supervisor Hale Redding. “I think we are moving in a positive direction, but there are more things that we can do still.”

Management plan

The Thunder Basin National Grassland Prairie Dog Management Strategy provides management options for prairie dogs in each of four categories. 

“The goal of the plan is to grow prairie dog numbers within each of the four categories,” explains Rebekah Fitzgerald, natural resources policy analyst with Governor Matt Mead’s office. “Category one and two are the most important categories, with categories three and four serving to supplement the populations of categories one and two.”

The plan sets the goal of reaching 18,000 occupied prairie dog acres within category one.

“They are trying to grow numbers for species diversity,” adds Fitzgerald. “The problem that we really have is that there is not enough flexibility in treating prairie dogs who are encroaching on private lands.”

“We have state lands parcels and private lands within the category one, specifically, and also in category two,” she continues. “We can’t manage those prairie dogs until that 18,000 acres of prairie dogs is reached.”

At the same time, Fitzgerald also explains that the historical high is 14,360 occupied acres of prairie dogs.

“We see it as problematic that we have a historical high that is not even as high as the management trigger number,” Fitzgerald adds.

Making changes

In addressing the problems with the plan, Fitzgerald notes that the Forest Service has agreed to reopen the document for comments and review through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process.

“The Forest Service hasn’t endorsed a specific plan moving forward, but they have agreed to reopen the plan and look at it,” says Fitzgerald. 

Included in the changes being sought are additional treatment options. 

“We would like to be able to treat prairie dogs within a quarter-mile buffer on the Forest Service lands,” she explains. “We would also like to see a full suite of treatment options, from additional poisons to being able to shoot and translocate animals.”

The only treatment option that has been allowed thus far is translocation, with the exception of within one mile of residences to protect human health and safety, where poisoning is allowed to take place.

“The translocation piece has been a fairly emotional process for some,” comments Fitzgerald. “We don’t want to take translocations away, but to protect landowners and state interests, we want to be able to fully treat within the buffer zone.”

“Right now, we only have one lethal option for control, and there are other products that work better,” adds Redding. “We’d like to see a more integrated program where we have more options for control, both lethal and non-lethal.”

Quade Schmelzle, Campbell County Weed and Pest district supervisor, comments, “We need a broader spectrum of rodenticides and ways to control prairie dogs. Integrated pest management is important in addressing any issue.”

The scoping document to reopen the plan is anticipated to be out by the end of July. At that point, the official National Environmental Policy Act process will begin.

Cooperation, collaboration

In moving forward with the plan, Fitzgerald says, “When the NEPA process starts, that will allow people to interact through cooperating agency status.”

Working collaboratively with a wide group of interested parties is important, she notes.

“We have worked with environmental groups in this process and had those conversations as much as we did with landowners,” Fitzgerald comments. “We emphasize that it is very important that the process moving forward is a collaborative process.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.