IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station north of Dubois in eastern Idaho won't turn out sheep in one of its grazing plots because of concerns over grizzly bear habitat.
Sandy Miller Hays is a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the sheep station.
Hays said the East Summer plot wouldn't have a direct effect on grizzly habitat, but to reach it sheep would have to cross U.S. Forest Service land designated as a sensitive habitat area for grizzlies.
"Our allotment has not been shut down," Hays told the Post Register. "We just can't get there."
The plot is located in the Centennial Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border. Hays said the station will graze stock on another plot in the Centennials that can be reached by crossing Forest Service land that's not designated a sensitive grizzly habitat area.
Katie Strong of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition said the station should shut down all its grazing plots in the Centennial Mountains because the area is a corridor for grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and bighorn sheep.
"We're OK with (the sheep station) staying in existence as long as they stop grazing in the Centennial Mountains," Strong said.
She said wolf or bear kills of sheep could lead to pressure on government agencies to take steps against the predators.
"You shouldn't be researching in areas where sheep are vulnerable to predators," Strong said.
Another concern among conservation groups is that bighorn sheep moving through the area will come in contact with the station's sheep. Domestic sheep have been blamed for spreading diseases that kill bighorns.
Hays said contact between the station's sheep and bighorns is rare.
"There really isn't the kind of contact between our sheep and the wild species that everybody seems to think," Hays said, noting more bighorns have been seen in the station's grazing areas southwest of Dubois.
Hays said the station's sheep are immediately removed from the area if a bighorn is spotted.