Nez Perce Tribe pulling out of bighorn work group
The Associated Press • Published May 28, 2009
LEWISTON, Idaho – The Nez Perce Tribe is pulling out of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's collaborative bighorn sheep panel because legislation passed by Idaho lawmakers undermines the process, the tribe's chairman says.
Samuel N. Penney said the legislation ends any collaborative effort and the tribe will no longer take part in the Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Working Group.
The goal of the group - made up of state officials, sheep ranchers, sportsmen and environmental organizations - had been to protect the sheep ranching industry while seeking a way for bighorn sheep to avoid contacting domestic sheep, which have been blamed for spreading deadly diseases to bighorns.
But Republican state Sen. Jeff Siddoway, a sheep rancher from Terreton, introduced a series of bills during the last legislative session aimed at protecting sheep producers.
Otter signed into law a bill to require the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to work with producers to develop a plan to keep bighorns away from domestic sheep while preserving domestic sheep grazing on federal land.
The law requires the plan and methods to be completed by Aug. 6. It also calls for Fish and Game to certify as acceptable any risk of disease transfer to bighorns remaining after the plan is put in place.
"We appreciated Gov. Otter's efforts to convene the Idaho Collaborative," Penney told the Lewiston Tribune. "But we are frustrated that Sen. Siddoway's legislation has undermined the governor's effort by legislating a political fix instead of allowing the collaborative process an opportunity to work."
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Grazing on federal land is not controlled by the state, but bighorn sheep are managed by the state. Some plans put forward by members of the working group called for killing bighorns that entered domestic grazing areas.
The passing of the law also led, last week, to the working group's meetings being called off to give the state time to come up with the plan required by the law.
"We felt the collaboration had come to a standstill," said Brooklyn Baptiste, vice chairman of the tribe's executive committee.
The tribe is especially concerned about domestic sheep grazing along the Salmon River. Unlike bighorns in nearby Hells Canyon, which were reintroduced from other herds after native bighorns disappeared due to disease and overhunting, the sheep in the Salmon River Canyon are descendants of native herds.
A draft grazing plan by the Payette National Forest calls for a reduction of domestic sheep grazing along the Salmon River upstream of Riggins and in Hells Canyon. A final version is expected later this year.
Elsewhere, the Payette and Nez Perce national forests are reviewing domestic sheep grazing.
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