House committee blocks sheep station closure

House ag approprations subcommittee blocks USDA plan to close U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Ida.) announced that the agriculture subcommittee of House Appropriations Committee has blocked the U.S. Department of Agriculture's planned closure of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) in Dubois, Ida.

Simpson, who is working with other western representatives to prevent closure of the facility, recently urged subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) to deny a request by USDA's Agricultural Research Service to reprogram funds from the sheep station, which would result in its closure. Simpson was pleased to learn that the request has been denied.

"Because of its location and expertise, experts at the (USSES) are conducting research that no other facility is currently able to do, including unique research on the domestic-wildlife interface that is vital to the future of the sheep industry," Simpson said. "Closing down the Dubois station would effectively end this important research, and it would be a huge loss to American agriculture, which is why my western colleagues and I are fighting so hard to keep it open."

"I'm pleased that we have avoided shutting down the Dubois center for now, but I recognize that this decision does not eliminate the potential threat of future closure of (USSES)," Simpson said. "I will continue to work with USDA, University of Idaho and members of the sheep industry to ensure the long-term viability of the sheep center at Dubois. It is critical that the sheep industry have a voice in future USDA decisions affecting their economic vitality."

Vilsack had sent a letter to Aderholt on June 17 saying that the station had become a liability and the station was being slated for closure on Nov. 3. Congress had 30 days to respond to Vilsack's decision, which would have been July 17.

A prolonged period of declining and flat budgets has resulted in underfunded programs at USSES, and the unit no longer has the critical mass of scientists necessary to address high priority research, Vilsack said in the letter.

USSES was established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson and has been grazing sheep on this land for nearly 100 years.

Under the closure plan, 17 of 21 full-time employees would have been offered reassignment, according to Vilsack's letter, the $1.9 million budget for 2015 would be divided among other ARS programs in the Pacific Northwest and the sheep genetics research relocated to the ARS U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb.

The letter also noted that closing USSES would cost between $3.5 million and $5 million depending on how many employees relocated.

The University of Idaho owns the 1,800 sheep at USSES, which are managed by ARS.

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