Payette Forest Orders 70 Percent Reduction in Domestic Sheep Grazing

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In the early 20th century, Idaho had 2.6 million domestic sheep. Today, about 170,000 are left. That's primarily due to the shrinking number of ranchers.

It's estimated that the American West once had more than 2 million bighorn sheep. Today, the U.S. Forest Service estimates about 70,000 remain. Only about 850 can be found in Hells Canyon. That's due, in large part, to disease.

Scientists say domestic sheep carry bacteria that can be deadly to bighorns.

Today (Wednesday, July 28), officials with the Payette National Forest are expected to unveil their plan to protect the bighorn by a 70 percent reduction of domestic sheep grazing by 2013. The areas impacted the most are Hells Canyon, and along the Salmon River East of Riggins.

The decision will result in the number of acres where domestic sheep will be allowed to graze to shrink from about 100,000 to just more than 31,500 acres in three years. According to a Forest Service analysis, the grazing reductions could lead to the loss of 28 jobs.