Western Watersheds Project et al v. U.S. Forest Service
ORDER granting 3 Motion for TRO.The Forest Service and all persons operating on its behalf, the employees of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and all persons operating on its behalf, and the employees of Agricultural Research Service and all persons operating on its behalf, are hereby enjoined from proceeding with the grazing of domestic sheep on the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments during the scheduled six-week 2017/2018 fall and winter grazing season. Signed by Judge Candy W. Dale. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1, # 2 Exhibit 2, # 3 Exhibit 3, # 4 Exhibit 4) (ah)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
and WILDEARTH GUARDIANS,
Case No. 1:17-CV-434-CWD
U.S. FOREST SERVICE,
AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS’
MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY
INJUNCTION OR TRO (DKT 3)
Pending before the Court is an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction or
temporary restraining order filed by Plaintiffs Western Watersheds Project (“WWP”) and
Wildearth Guardians (“Guardians”) against Defendant United States Forest Service
(“Forest Service”). (Dkt. 3.) The Court is considering the motion as a motion for a
preliminary injunction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a). The parties had
fair opportunity to provide full briefing supported by affidavits.1 Moreover, the standard
for issuing a preliminary injunction is virtually identical to the standard for issuing a
temporary restraining order. Lockheed Missile & Space Co., Inc. v. Hughes Aircraft Co.,
The Court also reviewed and considered much of the material submitted by the parties after the November
15, 2017 hearing. (Dkts. 26-27.) The Court agrees with Plaintiffs (Dkt. 27) that some of the information submitted
with Defendant’s Sur Reply (Dkt. 26) went beyond the Court’s request. However, Plaintiffs will be provided with an
opportunity to reply further if required in connection with future proceedings in this matter.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 1
887 F. Supp. 1320, 1323 (N.D. Cal. 1995). The parties filed responsive briefing, and the
Court conducted a hearing on November 15, 2017, at which the parties appeared and
presented their arguments.2 After carefully considering those arguments, the parties’
written memoranda, exhibits, and relevant case law, for the reasons that follow, the Court
will grant the motion.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
A. Standard of Review for a Preliminary Injunction
A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.”
Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008). It is not an
adjudication on the merits, “but a device for preserving the status quo and preventing
irreparable loss of rights before a judgment.” Idaho Rivers United v. Probert, No. 3:16CV-00102-CWD, 2016 WL 2757690, at *6 (D. Idaho May 12, 2016). A plaintiff seeking
preliminary injunctive relief must establish (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a
likelihood of suffering irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary injunctive relief;
(3) that the balance of equities is in plaintiff’s favor; and (4) that the injunction is in the
public interest. Winter at 7. The plaintiff must show suffering irreparable harm is likely,
and not a just a possibility. Id. A court must consider each factor and balance the parties’
competing claims of injury by considering the potential effects of the injunction on each
party. In the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, issuance of a
The undersigned United States Magistrate Judge has jurisdiction over this matter by virtue of all parties’
express written consent. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); see also D. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 72.1(a)(1) (authorization to decide civil
cases with the parties’ consent). (Dkt. 16.)
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 2
preliminary injunction is favored when the merits analysis and hardship balance both tip
strongly toward the plaintiff, so long as the plaintiff shows also that there is “a likelihood
of irreparable injury and that the injunction is in the public interest.” Alliance for the Wild
Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2011).
B. Standard of Review of a Final Agency Action
Courts review final agency actions under the Administrative Procedure Act
(APA). According to the APA, courts must review such final agency actions under the
“arbitrary and capricious” standard. Metcalf v. Daley, 214 F.3d 1135, 1141 (9th Cir.
2000). A court must determine if the agency’s action was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse
of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Id. (quoting Blue Mountains
Biodiversity Project v. Blackwood, 161 F.3d 1208, 1211 (9th Cir.1998) (quoting the
Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)). The APA standard dictates that the
reviewing court set aside the agency’s decision if it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of
discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). “The party
challenging an agency’s action as arbitrary and capricious bears the burden of proof.” W.
Watersheds Project v. Ashe, 948 F. Supp. 2d 1166, 1174 (D. Idaho 2013) (citing
WildEarth Guardians v. Salazar, 741 F.Supp.2d 89, 97 (D.D.C. 2010)).
A court may reverse the agency’s decision as arbitrary and capricious “only if the
agency relied on factors Congress did not intend it to consider, entirely failed to consider
an important aspect of the problem, or offered an explanation that runs counter to the
evidence before the agency or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a
difference in view or the product of agency expertise.” Cascadia Wildlands v. Bureau of
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 3
Indian Affairs, 801 F.3d 1105, 1110 (9th Cir. 2015). While the standard under the APA is
narrow, the reviewing court must still conduct a “substantial inquiry” and “a thorough,
probing, in-depth review,” to determine whether “the agency present[ed] a rational
connection between the facts found and the conclusions made.” Siskiyou Reg'l Educ.
Project v. U.S. Forest Serv., 565 F.3d 545, 554 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal citations
omitted). The Forest Service’s action of issuing the 2017 AOIs authorizing domestic
sheep grazing on the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments will be reviewed according to
the APA standard for final agency actions for both the NEPA and the NFMA claims. The
standards for each type of claim are set forth below.
i. National Environmental Policy Act
NEPA was designed to set forth a “national policy which will encourage
productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment ... [and] promote
efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and
stimulate the health and welfare of man.” Metcalf v. Daley, 214 F.3d 1135, 1141–42 (9th
Cir. 2000) (quoting 42 U.S.C.A. § 4321 (1994)). NEPA and its accompanying regulations
require agencies to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) before making
any irreversible or irretrievable commitment of resources. W. Watersheds Project v.
Bureau of Land Mgmt., No. CIV. 09-0507-E-BLW, 2009 WL 3335365, at *6 (D. Idaho
Oct. 14, 2009). This requirement is meant to prevent agencies from doing damage before
considering the effects of their actions. Id.
NEPA’s requirements are not substantive. Instead, NEPA establishes “actionforcing” procedures requiring agencies to make a “hard look” at the environmental
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 4
consequences of proposed actions. See Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490
U.S. 332, 348, 109 S.Ct. 1835, 104 L.Ed.2d 351 (1989). These “hard look” assessments
need to be made “early enough” to practically serve as a meaningful contribution to the
decision-making process. Id. at 718 (quoting 40 C.F.R. § 1502.5 (1987)). In other words,
the agency must make a hard look assessment “at the earliest possible time to insure that
planning and decisions reflect environmental values.” Andrus v. Sierra Club, 442 U.S.
347, 351, 99 S.Ct. 2335, 60 L.Ed.2d 943 (1979); see also 40 C.F.R. § 1501.2 (1999).
The issuance of Annual Operating Instructions (AOIs) by the Forest Service to
grazing permit holders is a final agency action. Oregon Nat. Desert Ass'n v. U.S. Forest
Serv., 465 F.3d 977, 984 (9th Cir. 2006). Thus, the Forest Service was required to
complete an EIS prior to issuing the 2017 AOIs for the Snakey and Kelly Canyon
allotments. However, in 1995 and in legislation thereafter, Congress enacted a series of
riders allowing, in some instances, for the NEPA process to be completed after the reissuance of expired or expiring grazing permits. The riders are now codifed within the
Federal Land Policy and Management Act (“FLPMA”). These riders may affect the
viability of the Plaintiffs’ NEPA claims in this matter.
ii. National Forest Management Act
The National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”) creates a management
framework for national forests. The framework is divided into a two-step process. First,
the Forest Service must develop a Land Resource Management Plan and an EIS for the
entire forest. 36 C.F.R. § 219.10(a), (b); Neighbors of Cuddy Mountain v. U.S. Forest
Serv., 137 F.3d 1372, 1376 (9th Cir. 1998). Second, once a forest plan is created, siteMEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 5
specific projects require assessment by the Forest Service. Any action taken by the Forest
Service must be consistent with the applicable forest plan. NEPA overlays the NFMA
requirements. For example, whether an EIS needs to be prepared, and the process by
which an EIS is prepared, i.e. the “hard look” requirement, is dictated by NEPA. See 40
C.F.R. Part 1501 et seq; Cuddy at 1376. However, unlike NEPA, NFMA imposes
substantive requirements at each step. These include requirements insuring biological
diversity of plants and animals and managing for the viability of sensitive species within
WWP and Guardians seek to have the Court enjoin grazing of domestic sheep on
the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments (the “allotments”) in the Caribou-Targhee
National Forest (the “Forest”). The Forest Service authorized the grazing through
issuance of an annual temporary grazing permit in June of 2017 and corresponding
Authorized Operating Instructions (“AOIs”). The documents were issued to the United
States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), Agricultural Research Service (“ARS”), for
the benefit of the United States Sheep Experiment Station (“Sheep Station”) in Dubois,
Idaho. ARS is the USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency.3 The fall grazing
season was set to begin on November 6, 2017. However, in light of Plaintiffs’ motion, the
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE, ARS
Home, About ARS, https://www.ars.usda.gov/about-ars/ (last visited Nov. 20, 2017) (Court’s Exhibit 1).
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 6
Forest Service agreed to delay turnout of the sheep on both allotments until November
Plaintiffs argue that grazing domestic sheep on the allotments poses a grave risk to
the nearby South Beaverhead bighorn sheep population. The risk to bighorns arises from
the potential for the transmission of pneumonia pathogens from domestic sheep to
bighorn sheep when the two species are in close proximity.
Plaintiffs bring two claims for relief in their Complaint. (Dkt. 1.) First, they claim
the Forest Service violated NEPA by issuing the September 2017 AOIs prior to
completing and publishing its EIS on the impacts of domestic sheep grazing on the
bighorn sheep. Second, Plaintiffs allege that authorizing the grazing is inconsistent with
the direction set forth in the 1997 Revised Forest Plan for the Targhee National Forest
(“Forest Plan”), and thus is also a violation of NFMA.
Plaintiffs claim the Forest Service failed to close the two allotments as required by
the Forest Plan. They allege the Forest Plan requires closure when an opportunity
arises—opportunity is defined as “a suitable or favorable time.” The most recent
interagency agreement between the Forest Service and ARS for the Sheep Station expired
at the close of 2016. Plaintiffs claim the expiration of that agreement was “an
opportunity” under the Forest Plan for the Forest Service to close the allotments. Instead,
in early February of 2017, the parties renewed the agreement for five additional years.
(2017 Interagency Agreement, Dkt. 19-3.) The February 2017 agreement specifically
provides, in Section III(c), that the Forest Service shall “[i]ssue an annual Livestock
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 7
Grazing Permit to ARS to authorize sheep grazing on NFS lands each season.” (Dkt. 19-3
In their Complaint, Plaintiffs further allege the Forest Service’s decision to issue
the grazing permit and corresponding AOIs is not supported by this Court’s precedent.
(Dkt. 1.) They cite numerous decisions where this Court either approved of a closure or
ordered closure of Forest Service or BLM managed allotments due to the same risk of
Finally, Plaintiffs argue the public has a “great interest in preserving [this] iconic
western species that so many people value, including hunters, recreationalists, and
wildlife enthusiasts.” (Dkt. 3-1 at 21.) And, that closing the allotments will cause “very
little hardship to the Forest Service or the Sheep Station.” Id. Plaintiffs claim the Forest
Service will actually benefit, due to cost savings (the Sheep Station pays no fee for the
grazing rights). As to the Sheep Station, the Plaintiffs argue that, because the Sheep
Station does not use the allotments specifically for research (but to support research it
does on other lands), and because it cannot graze the allotments in high snow years, the
use is not critical. Plaintiffs further allege the Sheep Station has been on the
Western Watersheds Project et al. v U.S. Forest Serv., 2007 WL 1729734, No. 4:07-cv-151-BLW (D.
Idaho, June 13, 2007) (approving closure of Smith Mountain allotment); Western Watersheds Project et al. v. U.S.
Forest Serv., 2007 WL 3407679, No. 4:07-cv-151-BLW (D. Idaho, Nov. 13, 2007) (approving closure of AllisonBerg allotment); Western Watersheds Project et al. v. BLM, 2009 WL 3335365, No. 4:09-cv-507-BLW (D. Idaho,
October 14, 2009) (ordering closure of Partridge Creek allotment); Western Watersheds Project et al. v. U.S. Forest
Serv., 2012 WL 2254206, No. 1:12-cv-286-BLW, ECF #16-17 (D. Idaho, June 15, 2012) (ordering Forest Service to
withdraw grazing authorizations and implement direction closing allotments on Payette National Forest); Idaho
Wool Growers Ass’n et al. v. Vilsack et al., 7 F. Supp. 3d 1085 (D. Idaho 2014) (approving Forest Service decision
to close allotments on Payette National Forest), aff’d 816 F.3d 1095 (9th Cir. 2016).
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 8
government’s chopping block for years because it fails to provide a significant return of
value in relation to the cost of running it each year.
In response, the Forest Service argues the issuance of the grazing permit prior to
completion of the EIS is not unlawful, and was approved by Plaintiff WWP as a party to
a 2013 settlement agreement regarding grazing domestic sheep in the area that includes
these two allotments, among others. The Forest Service alleges the settlement agreement
expressly provides that grazing may continue on the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments
until the EIS is complete.
The Forest Service further argues that the issuance of the permits is actually
required by law—claiming the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA)
requires the reissuance of permits until the necessary environmental analysis is
complete.5 In 1995, Congress enacted riders to an appropriations bill that were eventually
recodified within FLPMA. The provisions were created because so many grazing
allotments were coming up for renewal and required NEPA analysis. Congress enacted
the laws to ease the administrative burden on the Forest Service and BLM, and to prevent
unfairness to permit holders who otherwise would have to wait for review to continue
grazing. The statute allows for continuation of expired or terminated permits under new
permits with the same terms and conditions of the last permit pending required
environmental analyses. 43 U.S.C. § 1752 (c)(2). However, the application of this
Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 43 U.S.C. § 1752 (Grazing Leases and Permits). The
provisions of the 1995 Rescissions Act and subsequent appropriations and omnibus riders are recodified in this
section of FLPMA.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 9
provision is subject to dispute in case law.6 The Forest Service alleges the provision
applies not only to NEPA, but to “all other applicable” laws requiring up-front
environmental analysis—such as NFMA.
Finally, the Forest Service alleges it is in compliance with the Forest Plan because
it has acted to limit domestic sheep grazing within the Forest and within the allotments at
issue. The Forest Service argues it is acting consistently with the Forest Plan by
maintaining the viability of the bighorn populations Forest-wide. It asserts that, even if
the domestic sheep grazing does result in the South Beaverhead population dying-off due
to pneumonia outbreak, it nevertheless is and will maintain compliance due to the health
of the bighorn populations Forest-wide.
Likewise, the Forest Service acknowledges it is possible that the South
Beaverhead bighorn population could be exposed to the pneumonia pathogen from the
grazing domestic sheep. However, it argues that a possibility does not warrant an
injunction—and that Plaintiffs instead must show the result is likely to occur. The Sheep
Station has been grazing the allotments for decades.7 The Forest Service points out that,
in all that time, the small population of bighorns has not been extirpated. And, as
mentioned above, the Forest Service argues also that extirpation of the small herd would
Or. Natural Desert Ass’n v. Sabo, 854 F. Supp. 2d 889, 922023 (D. Or. 2012); W. Watersheds Project v.
BLM, No. 4:07-cv-151-BLW, ECF #166 at 15-18 (D. Idaho, Oct. 2, 2009); Great Old Broads for Wilderness v.
Kempthorne, 452 F. Supp. 2d 71, 81 (D.D.C. 2006); W. Watersheds Project v. Jewell, 56 F. Supp. 3d 1182, 1193 (D.
Idaho 2014)); W. Watersheds Project v. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 629 F. Supp. 2d 951, 970 (D. Ariz. 2009).
The USDA began grazing sheep on the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments decades before the bighorns
were reintroduced in the area in 1976 and 1985. It appears from the record that the Sheep Station opened and
domestic sheep grazing began on the allotments sometime between 1919 and 1924.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 10
not jeopardize the viability of the bighorn population Forest-wide. See W. Watersheds
Project v. BLM, No. 4:07-cv-151-BLW, ECF #166 at 15-18 (D. Idaho, Oct. 2, 2009)
(where a threat to one bighorn population was a threat to all populations in the forest). In
contrast, the Forest Service alleges the Sheep Station stands to lose years of valuable
research and associated resources should the Court enjoin grazing during the 2017-2018
fall and winter season, which lasts for six weeks beginning on November 21, 2017.8
The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station
The Sheep Station has been using the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments in the
Caribou-Targhee National Forest to graze domestic sheep since approximately 1924.
(Dkt. 19-1 at 4.) The allotments “provide a winter rangeland habitat that is representative
of rangelands” used by a large section of the U.S. sheep industry. (Dkt. 19-1.) As such,
according to the Sheep Station, the allotments offer the necessary environmental
variables to successfully conduct various research projects related to studying the ecology
of respiratory disease caused by the presence of the respiratory microbial floral called
“Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae” in domestic sheep under rangeland conditions. The Sheep
Station’s current research is also aimed at increasing meat and wool quality in domestic
The Complaint states the grazing periods authorized by the permit are as follows: For Snakey Canyon,
November 6, 2017 to January 2, 2018; and for Kelly Canyon November 20 to January 3, 2018. (Dkt. 1.) These date
ranges comport with the 2017 Temporary Grazing or Livestock Use Permit. (Dkt. 9-4.)
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 11
The Forest Service asserts that the success of the Sheep Station’s research requires
an “annually-repeated grazing strategy, where the sheep graze the same properties each
season within each year,” and management of sheep in “an extensive rangeland-type
system” is essential to success of this current research. (Taylor Dec., Dkt. 19-1 at 5.)
According to the Sheep Station, the goal of the research involving domestic sheep grazed
on the allotments “is to develop and release genetic lines of sheep that produce safe and
premium products for the consumer, while minimizing the use of natural resources and
eliminating negative impacts to the landscape or wildlife.” Id.
Although the Sheep Station maintains management ownership of the genetics of
the sheep it has developed through its research, the University of Idaho owns the animals.
The University of Idaho also employs the sheep herders who watch and care for the
The number of domestic sheep grazed on the allotments has varied over the years.9
For the 2017 fall and 2018 winter grazing season, the Sheep Station plans on turning out
a herd of 720 domestic sheep on the Snakey Canyon allotment. This herd will be
monitored by one sheep herder. The Sheep Station plans on turning out a herd of 450
sheep on the Kelly Canyon allotment. This herd will be monitored also by one herder.
Each herd will graze from November 21, 2017, through the first few days of January of
2018 (see supra note 9). The total number proposed to be grazed on the allotments this
The data for the past four years provides the example: In 2013, 371 sheep were grazed in Kelly and 737 in
Snakey; in 2014, 399 sheep were grazed in Kelly and 540 in Snakey; in 2015, 388 sheep were grazed in Kelly and
388 were grazed in Snakey; and in 2016, 563 sheep were grazed in Kelly and 469 in Snakey. (Dkt. 9-22 at 2.)
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 12
season is 1,170. Notably, according to the Sheep Station, all of the sheep except 315 are
sheep that are in their final year of five-year research studies. The Sheep Station claims
the efficacy of these five-year studies is dependent on those 855 sheep in the last study
year being grazed on the allotments this season and that the “final year is critical for
maintaining a statistically valid replication across years.” (Taylor Dec., Dkt. 19-1 at 7.)
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep also have a storied history in the area. Bighorn
sheep are a native species of the Intermountain West. The former range of the type of
bighorn sheep found in Idaho, Ovis Canadensis, extended from the Northern Rocky
Mountains in Canada to Mexico and Baja, California.10 However, many of the herds were
extirpated by the early 1900s as a result of indiscriminate hunting, disease, and loss of
habitat. (Idaho Department of Fish and Game, FY2015/FY2016 Statewide Report,
Bighorn Sheep, Dkt. 19-6 at 72.)
The bighorn populations that exist in Idaho today are by and large the result of
reintroduction (translocation) efforts throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The South
Beaverhead herd is the result of reintroduction efforts in 1976 and 1985, which placed a
total of 41 bighorns in the area. The herds’ size has varied throughout the years, but has
remained low in number.11 At last count, in 2016, the herd consisted of 36 bighorn sheep.
U.S. FOREST SERVICE, Index of Species Information, Wildlife Species: Ovis canadensis
https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/ovca/all.html (last visited Nov. 11, 2017) (Court’s Exhibit 2).
Data regarding the South Beaverhead population is limited. The count data has been collected as a part of
annual counts focused on other animals (such as elk for instance) as performed by IDFG. The population data that
does exist includes the following (year: number of bighorns counted): 2002: 26; 2005: 17; 2007: 30; 2014: 13; 2016:
36. (Dkt. 19-6 at 75.)
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 13
According to bighorn experts, the definition of a “viable” bighorn population is a
herd of 100 or more animals. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (“IDFG”)
estimates that the area where the South Beaverhead herd is located is habitat suited to
support a bighorn population of 261 animals. (Dkt. 19-6 at 14.) It has been suggested that
populations below 30 bighorns have a high-likelihood of extirpation, “and the recovery of
populations at or below this number is unlikely without management intervention.”
(Bighorn Sheep Risk Assessment for Region 4 National Forests, Dkt. 9-15 at 4.)
The small herd size makes the South Beaverhead population especially vulnerable
to die-offs caused by disease. Bighorn sheep are particularly susceptible to transmission
of pneumonia pathogens commonly carried by domestic sheep asymptomatically.
Transmission occurs through direct contact and aerosolization (dispersal through air).
Researchers have identified the Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae bacteria as the pathogen
“most strongly supported as a primary causal agent of pneumonia in bighorn sheep.”
(Dkt. 4-3 at 3.) This is the exact bacteria strain being studied in some of the sheep grazed
on the allotments.
When domestic sheep introduce the pathogen to bighorn sheep populations,
outbreaks of pneumonia may occur, which can result in high mortality rates in the
infected herd. Bighorns that survive an outbreak are resistant to the disease. However, the
resistance does not pass to offspring, resulting in pneumonia-induced mortality in the
survivors’ lambs. Additionally, “[t]here is a legitimate concern over the ability of small
populations [of bighorns] to sustain disease events, particularly when domestic sheep are
in close proximity to [bighorn sheep] populations.” (Dkt. 9-15 at 4.) According to the
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 14
2015 Bighorn Risk Assessment for Region 4 National Forests, analyses show that the
distance between a bighorn herd and the nearest domestic sheep “is a significant predictor
of pneumonia-induced die-off and translocation success.” (Dkt. 9-15 at 5 (internal
In 2010, the Forest Service published its final EIS for the Boise, Payette and
Sawtooth National Forests. (Dkt. 9-1.) Within the EIS, the Forest Service explained the
relationship between the bighorn sheep, domestic sheep, contact, and die-off events:
A long history of large-scale, rapid, all-age die-offs in bighorn sheep
exists across Canada and the United States, many associated with
domestic animal contact. Although limited knowledge of transmission
dynamics exists, extensive scientific literature supports the
relationship between disease in bighorn sheep populations and contact
with domestic sheep, including both circumstantial evidence linking
bighorn die-offs in the wild to contact with domestic animals and
controlled experiments where healthy bighorn sheep exposed to
domestic sheep displayed subsequently high mortality rates. Recent
serological analyses document the lethality of pathogens in bighorn
sheep that are not lethal to domestic sheep, and the transference of
pathogens from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep that result in bighorn
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Region, Final
Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Boise, Payette and Sawtooth National
Forests (July 2010). (Dkt. 9-1 at 6.)
The gregarious nature of both bighorn sheep and domestic sheep increases the
chances of disease transmission between the species and between different herds of
bighorns. During the fall and winter, bighorn sheep typically head to locations below
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 15
about 10,800 feet.12 And rams “often venture onto more open slopes, although rugged
terrain is always nearby.”13 These ventures are known as “forays” and are important to
understanding the potential range of movement bighorns may make throughout any given
environment and the potential for contact with domestic sheep. Forays are “defined as
occasional long-distance exploratory movements from and returning to [the bighorn] core
herd home ranges […].” (Dkt. 9-15 at 3.) Most bighorn ram forays end at around 26
kilometers (16.2 miles). (Dkt. 9-2 at 19.)
The information in the record regarding forays by rams in the South Beaverhead
herd comes from the telemetry data gathered by IDFG from 2011 through 2015. IDFG
radio-collared eight bighorn sheep from the herd: five rams and three ewes. In 2015, one
of the collared rams, number 14668, made forays nearby the allotments and into the
Snakey Canyon allotment from November 17 through 20. (Dkt. 9-21 at 2.)
The Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments are contiguous—there is no dividing
line such as a river or mountain range, just a division drawn on a map. Based on a ruled
map of the area (Dkts. 6-1 and 6-2.) and other evidence in the record, it appears the
straight-line distance between the South Beaverhead population’s core herd home range
and the allotments is approximately 10 to 12 miles.
Further, in a 2016 draft risk of contact analysis for bighorn sheep in Idaho, the
Forest Service identified the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments as overlapping with
U.S. FOREST SERVICE, Index of Species Information, Wildlife Species: Ovis canadensis
https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/ovca/all.html (last visited Nov. 11, 2017) (Court’s Exhibit 2).
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 16
the core herd home range of the South Beaverhead population. Thus, the Forest Service’s
draft risk of contact analysis indicates high probability that bighorn sheep will move in
and throughout the allotment area where the domestic sheep grazing occurs.
C. The 2017 Grazing Authorization
The Forest Service issues a temporary grazing permit to ARS for the Snakey and
Kelly Canyon allotments each grazing season as authorized by the interagency
agreement. The permit related to this litigation was issued in June of 2017. The 2017
permit authorizes ARS to graze 1,000 dry ewes14 on the Kelly Canyon allotment from
November 20, 2017, through January 3, 2018, and 1,200 dry ewes on the Snakey Canyon
allotment from November 6, 2017, through January 2, 2017. 15
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), allows the
Forest Service to authorize grazing like this on National Forest System (“NFS”) land.
NFS land is divided into allotments. Grazing is authorized on an allotment basis. To
authorize and manage such grazing, the Forest Service must issue a grazing permit, an
allotment management plan, and Annual Operating Instructions (“AOIs”).
The permit grants the license to graze and establishes the amount of livestock,
kind of livestock, and period of use. 36 C.F.R. §§ 222.1-222.4; 43 U.S.C. § 1752. The
management plan must be consistent with the applicable Forest Plan. It specifies a
program to meet the multiple uses of an allotment and other needs and objectives—
A dry ewe is a female sheep of breeding age without lambs. THE FREE DICTIONARY, Medical
Dictionary, https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/dry+ewe (last visited Nov. 20, 2017).
The Forest Service agreed to modify both turn-out dates to November 21, 2017 due to Plaintiff’s motion.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 17
including those related to grazing. 36 C.F.R. § 222.1(b); 43 U.S.C. §§ 1702(k)(1),
1752(d). Finally, the AOIs, issued on an annual basis, contain the long-term directives of
the management plan to permittees and governs the permit holder’s operations for the
next year or grazing term. The AOIs related to this litigation were issued in September of
2017. (Dkt. 9-25.)
D. Best Management Practices
AOIs include what are known as Best Management Practices (“BMPs”), which are
procedures designed to reduce the risk of contact between wild bighorn sheep and
domestic sheep. “Limiting contact with domestic sheep … is the primary strategy for
preventing disease emergence in bighorn sheep.”16 (Dkt. 4-3 at 2.) In large part, the
BMPs are instructions for herders and those managing and training the herders to avoid
contact between the two sheep species.17 BMPs are not protocols supported by scientific
peer-reviewed studies. Instead, they are on-the-ground solutions developed to decrease
the risk of contact between grazing domestic sheep and bighorns. Many parties, including
the Plaintiffs in this matter, question the effectiveness of BMPs—especially in certain
conditions, such as winter where day-light hours are limited and weather can further
Cassirer et al., Evidence for Strain-Specific Immunity to Pneumonia in Bighorn Sheep, Journal of
Wildlife Management (citing Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Wild Sheep Working Group 2012,
the Wildlife Society 2015).
A list of BMPs included in the 2017 AOIs can be found in the Declaration of Robert Mickelsen. (Dkt.
19-2 at 4-5.) The 2017 AOIs are found at Dkt. 9-25 at 4-5.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 18
In addition to the BMPs required by the AOIs, the Sheep Research station has
implemented additional BMPs, which include: (1) requiring the presence of a herder with
the sheep 24 hours a day, seven days a week; (2) placing black sheep within the white
domestic sheep herd to assist in counting and accounting for all of the domestic sheep;
and (3) requiring the herder to count the entire herd three times a week. (Dkt. 19-2 at 5).
Factors that may affect the efficacy of BMPs include: topography, bighorn sheep
source habitat connectivity, bighorn sheep population size, proximity of bighorn sheep
populations to domestic sheep grazing allotments, timing of allotment use, density of
vegetation, and escape terrain. (See Dkt. 4-1 at 7.) Another factor contributing to the
success or failure of BMPs is the gregarious nature of both species—when in close
proximity, i.e. grazing the same habitat, they are likely to seek each other out.
The successful implementation of BMPs by the Sheep Station has been called into
question by WWP and Guardians. According to Plaintiffs, “the Sheep Station has a
history of failing to ensure domestic sheep are only grazed at authorized times in
authorized areas.”18 (Dkt. 5 at 9.)
E. The 2013 Settlement Agreement
In 2010, WWP and others sued the Forest Service for reauthorizing livestock
grazing on federal land without conducting the proper environmental review under
Mr. Walter’s declaration alleges the Sheep Station left domestic sheep on the range after the grazing
season was over and that reports from neighbors document that eight ewes survived the winter and each gave birth
to two lambs, which resulted in at least 24 strays left on the allotments. He alleges also that the herders employed by
the Sheep Station are unreliable in their reports to the Forest Service concerning potential contact between the
bighorn population and domestic sheep during the grazing season. (Dkt. 5.)
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 19
NEPA. W. Watersheds Project v. U.S. Forest Serv., No, 4:10-CV-00612-ELJ-REB, Dkt.
1 (D. Idaho 2010). The lawsuit challenged three grazing decisions that covered a total of
35 allotments. One of the decisions was called the “Kelly Canyon/Snakey Canyon CE.”
“CE” stands for a “categorical exclusion” under FLPMA section 1752(h).
The lawsuit was resolved when the parties entered into a settlement agreement on
October 31, 2013. (Dkt. 109-1.) The Forest Service agreed to issue new grazing decisions
for nine allotments, including the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments. The Forest
Service agreed the decisions would be supported by an EA or an EIS. The Forest Service
deadline to issue scoping notices, which marks the initiation of the NEPA process, was in
April of 2015 for both allotments. The EIS for the allotments has not been completed as
of the date of this opinion. There are several provisions of the settlement agreement that
may be applicable to the resolution of this matter. The Forest Service raises paragraph 4
as an affirmative defense to WWP’s NEPA claim:
Pending completion of the new environmental analysis and decisionmaking processes, grazing may continue to occur on the allotments at
issue under the terms and conditions of the existing grazing permits,
and the challenged CE decisions will remain in effect.
W. Watersheds Project v. U.S. Forest Serv., No. 4:10-CV-00612-EJL-REB, ECF No.
109-1 at 5.
Plaintiffs argue the Forest Service has overstated the effect of paragraph 4 and the
intent of the settlement agreement. Plaintiffs assert they agreed in 2013 that grazing could
continue under the terms and conditions of the then-existing grazing permits pending
NEPA analysis. (Dkt. 25 at 6 n. 3.) Plaintiffs allege the then-existing permits expired, and
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 20
paragraph 4 does not apply to the 2017 permit or the AOIs.19 Plaintiffs further allege the
Forest Service breached the settlement agreement by failing to provide required status
reports. That provision is found in paragraph 6:
The Forest Service will provide a written summary to Plaintiffs and
Intervenors every six months, briefly describing the status of the
environmental analyses described in Paragraph 2. Following receipt
of the written summary, Plaintiffs and/or Intervenors may request an
in-person meeting with Forest Service representatives to discuss the
progress made toward completion of each decision. This meeting will
be open to the public.
W. Watersheds Project v. U.S. Forest Serv., No. 4:10-CV-00612-EJL-REB, ECF No.
109-1 at 5.
The Forest Service asserted in its response that, in addition to paragraph 4
precluding WWP’s NEPA claims, WWP failed to meet and confer to resolve any
conflicts, as further required by paragraph 6.20 It is against this backdrop that Plaintiffs
filed their Complaint (Dkt. 1), and the motion presently before the Court.
Although the Plaintiffs did not specifically mention them, paragraphs 13 and 14 of the settlement
agreement may also have some bearing on the Court’s determination of the viability of WWP’s challenge in light of
13. The obligations in this Settlement Agreement terminate for each grazing allotment described in
Paragraph 2 for which additional environmental analysis will be conducted upon issuance of a new
decision to graze or not to graze the allotment.
14. This Settlement Agreement requires the Forest Service to fulfill only the commitments specified
within this agreement and does not limit its authority with regard to the substantive outcome of any
decision. Plaintiffs do not waive their ability to challenge the decisions made by the Forest Service
pursuant to Paragraphs 1-3, and the Forest Service does not waive any applicable defenses.
Paragraph 6 reads as follows:
In the event of a dispute arising out of or relating to this Settlement Agreement, or in the event that
either party believes that the other party has failed to comply with any term or condition of this
Settlement Agreement, the party raising the dispute or seeking enforcement shall provide the other
party with notice of the claim. The Parties agree that they will meet and confer (either telephonically
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 21
As an initial matter, the Court finds the Forest Service has raised significant
questions regarding the likelihood of success on the merits of Plaintiffs’ first claim for
relief, the NEPA claim, because of the potential applicability of the 2013 settlement
agreement and the FLPMA appropriations riders. In regard to the settlement agreement,
the Court first notes that, because Guardians was not a party, even if the settlement
agreement is determined to bar WWP’s NEPA claim, it would not act to preclude
Guardians’ NEPA claim. Additionally, without further information, the Court cannot
sufficiently assess the likelihood of success on the NEPA claim at this stage. The parties
have raised questions as to the intent of the settlement agreement and alleged potential
breaches of the agreement. As such, the Court will not address the potential impact of the
FLPMA riders on the NEPA claim at this time. These issues will be taken up in the
course of the litigation.
The Court does find, however, that the Plaintiffs’ NFMA claim is likely to succeed
on the merits, that there is a likelihood of irreparable harm if the grazing proceeds, that
the balance of harm clearly tips in favor of the Plaintiffs, and that an injunction is in the
public interest. Each of these findings is explained below.
or in-person) at the earliest possible time in a good faith effort to resolve any requests, disputes or
claims before seeking further relief. If the Parties are unable to resolve the request, dispute or claim
themselves within 60 days of the receipt of the notice of a request, dispute or claim or such longer
time to which they agree, then the Parties may seek relief from this Court. (ECF No. 109-1.)
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 22
A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits
Plaintiffs’ strongest argument on the merits is that the Forest Service violated
NFMA and its corresponding regulations. First, the 2017 renewal of the interagency
agreement between the Forest Service and ARS likely presented an “opportunity” to
close the allotments as directed by the Forest Plan. Second, the Forest Service likely
violated the Forest Plan and its own management directives by authorizing domestic
sheep grazing that threatens the viability of a population of bighorns in the Forest.
i. Renewal of the Interagency Agreement
The Forest Plan requires the Forest Service to close the Snakey and Kelly Canyon
allotments on an “opportunity basis.” The Forest Service asserts that nothing had changed
on the ground that would rise to the level of an opportunity to close the allotments to
domestic sheep grazing prior to the execution of the new interagency agreement with
ARS.21 However, the Court finds there are serious questions regarding whether the
decision to renew the interagency agreement was an opportunity to protect resources
under the Forest Plan, which states:
To better manage bighorn sheep habitat, the Kelly Canyon and Snakey
Canyon winter sheep allotments… will be phased out on an
opportunity basis… An opportunity is defined as a suitable or
favorable time to abolish or close an allotment because of nonuse
violations, term permit waivers where the permit is waived back to the
government, resource protection, or permit actions resulting in
cancellation of the permit. If opportunities do not arise, then efforts
The Forest Service asserts it relied on available data and that the use of the allotments is explicitly
described in the Sheep Station’s EIS. (Second Taylor Declaration, Dkt. 26-1 at 5.) However, the Court notes that
when an environmental analysis is required under NEPA/NFMA, the Forest Service must perform its own analysis
and cannot rely on an EIS completed by another entity to support Forest Service final actions, such as authorizing
grazing on NPS land.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 23
will be made to relocate or accommodate the sheep to other areas.
When all winter sheep allotments in that portion of the subsection
have been vacated, the will be closed. The intent of closing these
individual allotments as they become vacated is to provide an
opportunity to minimize conflicts between domestic and bighorn
United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Region, 1997
Revised Forest Plan, Targhee National Forest, III-40 (April 1997) (“Forest Plan”). (Dkt.
19-8 at 35.)
The Forest Service asserts that the 2017 renewal of the interagency agreement,
approximately two months after the expiration of the 2016 agreement, did not constitute
an opportunity to close the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments because nothing on the
ground had changed since the last agreement was put in place. The Court acknowledges
that may be true. However, the Court notes that, although the situation on the land was
potentially the same as it had been for years, things had changed: the Forest Service was
in the process of conducting its own environmental analysis of the effects of domestic
sheep grazing, and it had new telemetry data showing rams from the South Beaverhead
population could and do make forays near and into the allotments.
The Court concludes this and other new information and guidance, such as the
2015 Region 4 Bighorn Risk Assessment, amounted to changes that reasonably could
have been identified as an opportunity, along with expiration of the interagency
agreement, to close the allotments based on the objective of resource protection—at least
pending completion of the EIS, which is underway.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 24
ii. Ensuring for Viable Populations of Sensitive Species
The Forest Plan directs the Forest Service to maintain “at least viable populations
of all native and desired nonnative wildlife… in habitats distributed throughout their
geographic range on National Forest System lands.” (Forest Plan, Fish and Wildlife, 2602
Dkt. 19-8.) According to both Plaintiffs’ and Defendant’s experts, a viable population of
bighorns is a herd of more than 100 animals. It is clear the South Beaverhead population
is not viable at this time. However, it is also clear from the record that the area where the
South Beaverhead herd is located provides proper habitat to support a viable population
of more than 250 bighorn sheep.
The Forest Service asserts it is in compliance with the Forest Plan requirement to
maintain viable populations of sensitive species throughout the Forest. It argues that,
because the South Beaverhead population is not viable, it does not matter, under the
Forest Plan, if it is extirpated—i.e. the risk of extirpation does not violate the Forest Plan.
In other words, the Forest Service asks the court to the measure the Forest Plan’s
maintenance requirement not herd-by-herd, but by considering the sum of all of the
individual bighorn populations Forest-wide. The sum would necessarily include the
South Bighorn population—unless or until they are extirpated. This circular logic is
The meaning of “maintain” underscores the Court’s point. The Oxford English
Dictionary contains numerous definitions for maintain, including: “to sustain (life) by
nourishment,” “to keep up, preserve, cause to continue in being (a state of things, a
condition, an activity, etc.); to keep vigorous, effective, or unimpaired; to guard from loss
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 25
or deterioration.”22 Thus, in no way do the common definitions and understandings
support neglect or deterioration of a population of animals (taken as a whole, or in part)
that the Forest Service is mandated to maintain.
Layered on top of the mandate of maintaining viable populations of all desired
native or non-native23 wildlife, are the requirements related to sensitive species. Bighorn
sheep are currently designated as a sensitive species in National Forests in the
Intermountain region, including the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. (Dkt. 19-5 at 3.)
With regard to sensitive species, the Forest Plan directs the Forest Service to “develop
and implement management practices to ensure that species do not become threatened or
endangered because of Forest Service actions.” (Forest plan, Sensitive Species, 2670.22,
By authorizing domestic sheep grazing on the allotments, the Forest Service risks
extirpation of a herd, albeit small, of sensitive species. This is an action that threatens the
herd, and to the Forest Service’s point, potentially will diminish the overall population of
bighorn sheep throughout the Forest. For these reasons and those above regarding the
OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, maintain http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/112562?rskey=4s
WBAt&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid (last visited Nov. 20, 2017) (Court’s Exhibit 4).
Defendants attempt to distinguish this Court’s October 2009 decision in W. Watersheds Project v.
Bureau of Land Mgmt. from the case at hand, arguing there the Court was concerned about the threat posed to the
only remaining truly native bighorn herd in Idaho. There, Chief District Judge B. Lynn Winmill enjoined grazing on
Bureau of Land Management land near the Payette National Forest. No. CIV. 09-0507-E-BLW, 2009 WL 3335365
(D. Idaho Oct. 14, 2009). The Court concluded that, if exposed to the pneumonia pathogens it was highly likely that
reintroduced bighorns could infect not only their immediate companions but the native herd far up the Salmon River
drainage. The Court is not convinced that whether the potentially affected bighorns are the last remaining native
herd, or are reintroduced animals of the same genus and species, changes the nature of the Forest Service’s
obligations under NFMA and other applicable laws.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 26
Forest Service’s missed opportunity to close the allotments, the Court concludes
Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their NFMA claim.
B. Likelihood of Irreparable Harm
The Forest Service argues Plaintiffs failed to show likelihood of irreparable harm,
asserting that the acknowledged possibility that bighorns could be exposed to disease
pathogens from domestic sheep has not been shown to be likely.
In 2011, the Forest Service’s deputy chief provided direction on managing bighorn
sheep that are in close proximity to domestic sheep grazing allotments: “Where
management objectives include maintenance or enhancement of bighorn sheep
populations, the potential for disease transmission from domestic sheep … to bighorn
sheep must be addressed. To meet these objectives, forests must conduct a bighorn sheep
risk assessment.” (Dkt. 9-15 at 6.)24 Region 4 produced a bighorn risk assessment in
2015. (Dkt. 19-5.) The Region 4 risk assessment included guidance for the viable
population and risk assessment process. (Dkt. 19-5 at 8.) The guidance concluded,
“[b]ighorn sheep herd proximity to active domestic sheep allotments supplies a direct
measure for interspecies separation,” and a risk of contact model “estimates more directly
relevant rates of contact between [bighorn sheep] and domestic sheep allotments.” The
document also indicated that “distance from a [bighorn sheep] herd to the nearest
domestic sheep is a significant predictor of pneumonia-induced die-off.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 2011. Bighorn Sheep Analysis foe NEPA Documents
Letter from Washington Office to Regional Foresters in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Signed by Deputy Director
James Pena, Deputy Chief, Forest System. Aug. 12, 2011.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 27
Thus, although the Forest Service posits likelihood of irreparable harm cannot be
shown by the available, admittedly scant evidence of contact or potential contact, the
Court finds the Forest Service’s own guidance points to the evidence of risk of
irreparable harm in this case: proximity. It is the proximity between the domestic sheep
grazed on the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments to the South Beaverhead population
that demonstrates likelihood of irreparable harm. Even with flawless execution of
BMPs,25 there is no way the Sheep Station or Forest Service can ensure that domestic
sheep will not wander, and that South Beaverhead rams will not make forays on or near
the allotments while the large herds of domestic sheep are grazing.
The risk in this case is created by the proximity of the two groups of animals. The
Forest Service prepared a draft risk of contact analysis for Idaho bighorn sheep in 2016.
Therein, it identified the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments as overlapping core herd
home range. Thus, the allotments pose a high risk for disease transmission from domestic
sheep to the South Beaverhead herd.
And, because bighorn sheep are highly susceptible to the pathogens the domestic
sheep are known to carry—pathogens being studied in the domestic sheep—the risk
During the hearing, the Court asked the Forest Service if BMPs are supported by science that confirms
their effectiveness. Defendants answered in the negative. This question was prompted by the same concern
discussed in W. Watersheds Project v. Bureau of Land Mgmt. There, the Court stated: “The record must reveal that
the IDFG and the BLM went further than the language of the statute and set in place BMPs that had some science
behind them. The present record—obviously thin on a motion for TRO—shows no supporting science for the
BMPs.” No. CIV. 09-0507-E-BLW, 2009 WL 3335365, at *7 (D. Idaho Oct. 14, 2009). Here, the Forest Service
argues that BMPs are more effective on open landscapes, like the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments, than they
are in forested areas of the type at issue in the 2009 case. Plaintiffs respond that, although the landscapes are
different, there is no scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness in either landscape scenario. As in the 2009
case, the present record contains no supporting science for the BMPs on more open landscapes.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 28
increases. Finally, as with cases before this, the risk to the bighorns is potentially
catastrophic and could affect the other nearby herds. For these reasons, the Court finds
the risk of irreparable harm likely, assuming continued domestic sheep grazing activity
on the allotments during the pendency of this litigation.
C. Balance of Hardships
With regard to balancing the hardships, the Forest Service asserts the viability of
the research studies in their fifth and final year will be compromised if grazing is
enjoined on the allotments. The hardship involved to the Sheep Station would be to
quickly locate alternative land with the same environmental variables to graze the sheep
During the hearing, the Sheep Station asserted that only 314 of the total 1,170
domestic sheep to be grazed this season are not a part of the group of sheep that are in
their fifth year of a study. This information prompted the Court to begin counting sheep.
By the Court’s count, 855 domestic sheep have been in the five-year studies. Yet
other evidence before the Court suggests that this group of 855 sheep have not been
consistently grazed on the allotments for the past four seasons. For example, according to
the Forest Service, in 2015, 338 sheep were grazed on the Snakey Canyon allotment and
388 were grazed on the Kelly Canyon allotment—totaling 776 sheep. This figure is 79
sheep shy of the 855 that are cited to be part of the five-year studies.
Information presented in the Forest Service’s sur reply sheds light on the question
that arises from this calculation. (Dkt. 26.) The Forest Service asserts the reduction in
grazing on the allotments in 2015 was due to the Sheep Station’s ability to utilize winter
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 29
range on ARS land to graze some of the sheep. This fact indicates several things to the
Court: grazing on the specific allotments is not critical to either the integrity or the
success of the studies, and at a minimum, some of the sheep can be grazed on the suitable
ARS land. Additionally, the Court notes the Sheep Station has, in the past, been unable to
graze the sheep on the allotments once a snow pack forms—indicating that grazing of the
studied sheep may be interrupted or prevented by a common weather event.
Therefore, the Court finds the potential harm or risk of extirpation to the South
Beaverhead herd, as well as the potential effects of disease transmission to the North
Beaverhead herd and other nearby herds, significantly outweighs the hardship of finding
alternative suitable land to graze the domestic sheep pending the outcome of this
D. The Public Interest
Considering the public interest in a case such as this—the public’s enjoyment of
National Forest lands and enjoyment of sensitive, iconic species such as bighorn sheep—
is a significant interest. The efforts undertaken to restore bighorn sheep to their native
habitats have been significant, ongoing, and costly. On the other hand, the public and the
commercial sheep industry also have an economic interest in the outcome of the Sheep
Station’s research. In this case, the Court finds the balance clearly tips in favor of the
public interest in preserving the iconic Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and the viability
of the South Beaverhead population, given the potential for extirpation verses the shortterm burden of finding an alternate grazing location and the minimal effect this will have
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 30
on the potential benefit from the ongoing research for the public and the commercial
sheep industry as a whole.
Plaintiffs have established a likelihood of irreparable injury to the bighorn
population in this region of the Forest if grazing is allowed during the six-week grazing
season. Plaintiffs have established also their NFMA claim is likely to succeed. The
balance of the hardships additionally tips in favor of the Plaintiffs. And, finally, the
public interest favors the issuance of a preliminary injunction.
NOW THEREFORE IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
1) Plaintiffs’ motion for Preliminary Injunction (Dkt. 3) is GRANTED. The
Forest Service and all persons operating on its behalf, the employees of the
U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and all persons operating on its behalf, and the
employees of Agricultural Research Service and all persons operating on its
behalf, are hereby enjoined from proceeding with the grazing of domestic
sheep on the Snakey and Kelly Canyon allotments during the scheduled sixweek 2017/2018 fall and winter grazing season.
November 20, 2017
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER – 31
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