Utah's congressmen are locking horns over a plan by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, to save wild bighorn sheep by transferring nearby domestic sheep flocks - which carry diseases that decimate wild sheep.
None of the sheep affected would be in Owens' Salt Lake County district. They are all in the districts of Reps. Howard Nielson and Jim Hansen - which brought protests from them Tuesday.Nielson said, "I wish Mr. Owens would turn his attention to his own district's environmental concerns and leave the concerns of my district to me and the other officials elected by the people in their areas."
Half-jokingly, Hansen said that maybe Owens should consider reintroducing bighorns in Salt Lake City's City Creek Canyon "so every morning Wayne can look out his window and see a majestic buck sitting there bleeding his little heart out to him."
Owens responded that he rejects the notion that he cannot deal with issues affecting areas outside his district. "I am a congressman elected to represent Utah. The taxpayers in my district fund many of the activities elsewhere in the state. I feel obligated to represent the land and values of Utah in their best interest."
Owens noted that as a child, his family raised sheep in the Panguitch area - so he is familiar with the concerns of woolgrowers. However, he said, moving, buying out or canceling just a few sheepmen's grazing rights - many of which are not in use anyway - could better protect the bighorns or allow them to be reintroduced in key areas.
However, Hansen said, "Even if it affects just a handful, it's affecting something near and dear to their existence and livelihood. A lot of these people's families have held grazing rights for generations."
Nielson added, "To even think about taking away those rights and in so doing take away their jobs is ridiculous. How would Mr. Owens feel if we tried to arbitrarily eliminate jobs in his district?"
Owens wrote last week to the Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management encouraging them to move grazing rights away from bighorn areas.
Owens said, "We recently lost several hundred head of bighorn sheep because just one flock moved into the area. I think we should avoid those tragedies where possible."
But the plan brought instant protests from the Utah Wool Growers Association, fearing it was a move to crowd them off the range, and a delegation from the Utah Farm Bureau complained about the plan in visits to the congressional delegation on Tuesday.
Hansen said, "I am a hunter and a wildlife enthusiast, and I would like to see bighorn sheep. But I don't think it is necessary to reintroduce every species to places they once inhabited like Wayne is trying with the bighorn in Utah and with the wolves in Yellowstone."
Nielson said, "I'm not against maintaining bighorn sheep in Utah and I'm grateful for those we have, but I believe we have to be responsible about these matters and be fair to those people who are already there."