Court supports sheep producers claim
Reports outlining the findings and conclusions on the risk of disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep submitted by the Risk Assessment Disease Transmission (RADT) Committee and the Payette Principles Committee are not to be used by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in making any future agency determinations.
This was the decision announced last week by Judge B. Lynn Winmill, U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, in response to a suit filed against the USFS by the Idaho Wool Growers Association (IWGA) on behalf of Idaho’s sheep producers.
“The court found all of the arguments put forth by the forest service to be without merit,” comments Stan Boyd, executive director for IWGA. “It seems very clear to all of the sheep producers in this state that it was the intent of the USFS to further policy without including the views and perspectives of those most affected by its decisions—U.S. sheep producers.”
IWGA filed suit against USFS stating that the RADT Committee and the Payette Principles Committee violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) in that IWGA was barred from participating in the committees, resulting in a lack of representation by anyone engaged in domestic sheep management. IWGA further stated that they were denied the right to attend, observe and comment at the meetings and that they were not allowed access to information prepared for or by the committees.
Because of these violations, IWGA sought to prevent the use of the committees’ reports in any future USFS decisions, including the upcoming Payette National Forest Environmental Impact Statement.
Agency decisions based on these reports prior to the date of this order are not affected by this decision. FACA and NFMA attempt to ensure that advisory committees to federal agencies are transparent and adequately represent the public interest by imposing requirements such as advance notice of committee meetings, the keeping of minutes that are available to the public, and defining the composition of the membership of advisory groups.
In response to the allegations, the forest service raised five arguments—all of which the court found to have no merit. The court ruled that future agency decisions can not rely on the findings and/or conclusions of the RADT Committee or the Payette Principles Committee.
“It is our belief that the FACA violations resulted in a biased recommendation from the committees,” stated Ken Wixom, president of IWGA. “Since the court determined that the FACA regulations were violated, we applaud the decision to disallow the use of these reports for any future policy making. It is important that committees established by federal agencies include representation from all parties.” — WLJ