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Celebrating 100 Years of the U.S. Sheep Experiment StationBurton Pfliger, ASI President
An anniversary 100 years in the making will be celebrated this month (Aug. 23-25) at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho. I’ll be there – along with several ASI executive committee members and staff – to enjoy the festivities and learn more about the past, present and future of this valuable industry resource.
It wasn’t long ago that it appeared the USSES wouldn’t survive to see its 100th anniversary. In 2014, the Obama administration indicated a desire to abandon the station. Despite overcoming that obstacle, thanks to congressional support of our industry, a cloud of doubt will still be hanging over Dubois, Idaho, during our trip. The station’s future remains up in the air, under attack by anti-grazing groups who have every intention of seeing the station closed. We’ll take a closer look at that in a few moments.
The celebration will begin with a dinner to include historical reflections on the station’s vast accomplishments. Three breeds of sheep (Columbia, Polypay and Targhee) were developed at the station. Countless research on rangelands and grazing has also benefitted the American sheep industry.
The station comprises 48,000 acres in Idaho and Montana, allowing for the extensive study of territory known as the Intermountain West. Nearly two-thirds of all sheep in the U.S. are raised in a similar climate, which means the research performed is essential to our industry.
Day two of the three-day celebration will include three informative sessions:
• 100 Years of Sheep and Range Research;
• The Next 100 Years of Sheep and Range Research;
• Production Applications for Improving Sheep Production Efficiency.
The final day (limited to the first 150 people to register) will include a Tri-State (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) Wool Growers Association Range Tour that will “focus primarily on the policy and science that affects utilization of America’s rangeland as a food security resource.”
It appears organizers have lined up a first-class celebration that will benefit attendees in all facets of the sheep industry. I would highly encourage you to attend. Information on registration is available on our website at SheepUSA.org.
What remains to be seen is whether the 100th anniversary will be a truly joyous celebration or a going-away party of sorts for the USSES. I certainly hope it isn’t the latter.
Attacks by environmental groups have pushed USSES into an unprecedented National Environmental Policy Act review of the station. The sheep station is the only U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility in the country that has to undergo a NEPA. This is a result of legal bullying by anti-grazing groups who want to shut down the station and our industry as a whole.
The first NEPA found no reason why the station shouldn’t continue operations. Anti-grazing groups have since appealed and we’re right back at a NEPA finding that the station should continue to operate as it has for the past 100 years.
The public comment period on the most recent study closed on June 16; and a decision on the station’s future is expected in September or October. ASI filed comments on behalf of the station and encouraged others in the industry to follow suit. A positive outcome doesn’t guarantee an end to future legal challenges, but we hope to see the issue put to rest in the industry’s favor in the months to come.