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Forest Service chief won't review Payette National Forest bighorn decision

The Long Valley Advocate of Cascade, Idaho

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MCCALL -Federal officials say they will not conduct a review of appeals on the final impact statement regarding range-land for domestic sheep and bighorns in west-central Idaho.

Associate Forest Service Deputy Chief Pena was asked to exercise the option of discretionary review by some of the appellants to the Record of Decision, which was signed by Payette Forest Supervisor Suzanne Rainville last July.

"This action constitutes the fi-

nal administrative determination of the United States Department of Agriculture on this issue," the Forest Service announced.

Pena said he won't review Appeal Reviewing Officer Jerome Perez's decision concerning the appeals on the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Forest Plan Amendment Identifying Suitable Rangeland for Domestic Sheep and Goat Grazing to Maintain Habitat for Viable Bighorn Sheep Populations Record of Decision (ROD).

In March 2010, conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe provided comments to the Payette which was working on an update to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the effects of domestic sheep grazing on bighorn habitat.

The groups contend that domestic bands in contact with bighorns in this region can transmit a fatal disease to the wild bighorns.

The Forest Service cited "the preponderance of scientific literature" that shows that when domestic sheep come into contact with wild sheep, bighorns contract diseases and die in large numbers.

Local sheepman with grazing permits on the Payette disputed that claim that their bands could be lethal to the dwindling population of bighorns at Hells Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon.

In 2009, the regional forester added bighorns to the "Sensitive Species List." The decision noted that the bighorn numbers are less than 10 percent of historical numbers, their distribution is less

than a third of its pre-settlement distribution, and greatest threats to bighorn sheep are habitat degradation, human disturbance and disease transmission from domestic sheep and goats.

Last July, the Forest Service said it would provide an additional 346,000 acres of habitat on the Payette to separate Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from domestic sheep and goats, lessening the chance of disease transmission.

That "Alternative 70 Modified" gradually decreases the risk of contact over a three-year period beginning in 2010 and ending in 2013.

For further background information visit the Payette National Forest website at www.fs.usda. gov/payette.

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Original Publication Date: April 13, 2011

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