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Conservation groups target Idaho sheep research facility

By KEITH RIDLERMay 2, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federally-run sheep research facility long targeted by environmental groups concerned about potential harm to wildlife is facing another legal challenge.

The Justice Department in court documents filed Monday in response to a lawsuit says the Department of Agriculture’s Sheep Experiment Station in eastern Idaho correctly followed environmental laws in authorizing sheep grazing.

Western Watersheds Project and two other groups filed a lawsuit in February challenging a decision allowing sheep owned by the University of Idaho to graze in the Centennial Mountains of Idaho and Montana this year.

The groups say federal officials relied on “misstatements and speculative assertions to reject reasonable and necessary alternative actions, including ending Sheep Station grazing in critical wildlife habitats.”

Justice Department officials in responding to the lawsuit denied that assertion and many others, asking the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Grazing was suspended in 2013 following previous lawsuits by environmental groups contending the areas contain key wildlife habitat that’s a corridor for grizzly bears between Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Conservation groups contend grizzly bears have been killed because of sheep station activities.

The groups also say bighorn sheep and greater sage grouse use the area.

The Agriculture Department completed an environmental analysis last year as required by previous lawsuits and approved grazing to resume this year.

The Sheep Experiment Station, based near Dubois, Idaho, has not only been targeted by environmental groups but has also been on the federal budget chopping block under the administrations of both President Barrack Obama and President Donald Trump.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who represents the area, has played a crucial role in restoring funding.

The Agriculture Department on its website says the sheep station conducts research on lands ranging from about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) to nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in elevation.

The “lands contain subalpine meadow, foothill, sagebrush steppe, and desert shrubland ecosystems,” the agency says. “This diversity provides unparalleled research opportunities.”

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