Monday, June 30, 2014

Sheep Station Slated for Closure

On June 17, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced to Congress that he would close the US Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. Vilsack's letter said the station would close November 3. Congress has 30 days to react to Vilsack's decision. The clock starting ticking on June 20.

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) has expressed disappointment with the agency's decision to close the sheep experiment station, as well as the processes by which the decision was made public.

A grazing study
According to Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID), "closure would have a substantial impact on the western sheep industry."  Simpson was concerned "that people in the industry were not consulted before ARS made the decision." If the station closes, 21 full-time employees would lose their jobs, which represents 5% of the full-time jobs in very rural Clark County, Idaho.

Western members of Congress have asked to stop closure of the station by disapproving ARS's request to reprogram the funds. Reprogramming funds would result in closure of the station.  According to Vilsack's letter, none of the station's reprogrammed budget would go towards sheep research.

The US Sheep Experiment Station is the sole research center dedicated to sheep. It was established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson. Sheep have grazed the same lands for almost 100 years. Over the years, the sheep station has done research vital to the sheep and range industry, including the development of three commercially-important breeds (Columbia, Targhee, and Polypay) and various long-term grazing studies.

In recent years, the sheep station has been plagued by lawsuits by animal rights activists and environmental groups, who are concerned because ONE grizzly bear died at the station. At the same time, continuous underfunding of the station has reduced the number of scientists and the research that they are able to do.

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