Battle over Centennial Mountain lands wages between USDA and conservation groups

The litigation is not yet complete. The deadline for the USDA to file for appeal is June 15th.
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 8:57 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — For years domestic sheep have grazed on public lands in Eastern Idaho as part of the Sheep Experiment Station.

Now, conservation groups are attempting to bring a stop to the practice, citing the impacts on protected wildlife in the Centennial Mountains.

“It’s a critical wildlife corridor for grizzly bears, wolves and other wildlife and they’re grazing sheep on public lands up there,” says Center for Biological Diversity Attorney Andrea Zaccardi. “It’s a problem because it creates an easy attractant for grizzly bears and wolves for sources of prey.”

This land is viewed as critical for wildlife by conservationists, on the other hand, ranchers view the studies performed as equally vital.

“All the component parts are necessary in order to make it an effective operation. I.E. research in areas like grazing management, noxious weed management, poisonous plant management, [and] genetics,” says livestock rancher and former Idaho Wool Growers Association President Mike Guerry.

The lawsuit focused on the USDA’s studies showing that the environmental impact was minimal. Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity argued that the USDA’s data was cherry-picked and, at times, plainly incorrect.

“The US Department of Agriculture didn’t really analyze the impacts to grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and really the landscape in general,” says Zaccardi.

A mutual agreement on how to best continue studies while protecting wildlife is the ideal outcome says Zaccardi.

“We’re kind of hoping that we can sit down and have a conversation with the Department of Agriculture,” says Zaccardi, “[To] see if there [are] some other ways that they can use these lands and conduct other studies that won’t create impacts for the local wildlife.”

The USDA refused to comment on the specifics of the case, and its fallout, but did mention that the litigation is not yet complete. The deadline for the USDA to file for appeal is June 15.

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