An Idaho federal judge found the U.S. Forest Service in contempt of court Tuesday, concluding the Forest Service used a flawed study as the basis to ban domestic sheep and goats from some of its lands.

The lawsuit came in 2015 after the Shoshone National Forest prohibited domestic sheep and goats from entering the forest to prevent the spread of deadly diseases to bighorn sheep.

The contempt of court ruling, made by B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, requires the Forest Service pay for legal fees for the Idaho Wool Growers Association and the North American Packgoat Association, the two plaintiffs in the case. It does not go as far as the groups requested by ordering additional fines and reversing the sheep and goat ban.

Winmill deferred ruling on the specifics of the ban, instead ordering a “status conference” with the groups to discuss the issue. Packgoats are often used by backpackers and hikers to carry food and other supplies on backcountry trips.

Andrew Irvine, a Jackson-based attorney representing the Packgoat Association, praised the judge’s decision.

“Obviously, this upcoming status conference with the court will determine what happens to the existing Shoshone Land Management Plan and the Forest Service’s decision to ban domestic sheep and goats on the Shoshone National Forest,” Irvine said. “I am hopeful the Forest Service will be willing to sit down and work with NAPGA on a reasonable solution.”

The Forest Service received the ruling, and its Office of General Counsel is reviewing it, said Jace Ratzlaff, regional legislative affairs and SRS coordinator for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional office.

The North American Packgoat Association sued the Forest Service in 2015, claiming the Forest Service used a flawed, and illegal, study to ban domestic sheep and goats.

That study came from 2006 in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. Groups sued over the report, stating it was completed without representation from “anyone engaged in domestic sheep management or behavior,” according to Winmill’s ruling.

A judge in 2009 sided with the groups, and added that the study’s findings could not be “relied upon by the Forest Service with respect to any future agency decisions.”

When the Shoshone National Forest released its final 2015 plan banning domestic sheep and goats, it used too many of the study’s findings, including exact wording from portions of the document, Winmill found.

“The court order from 2009 was fairly black and white, and it said not to use these documents,” said Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation. “It’s unfortunate that the Shoshone cut and pasted so many of the documents and didn’t cite additional research in its finding.”

The science behind disease transmission between domestic sheep and goats and wild sheep, and the merit of keeping the animals separate, is still sound, he said. Bighorn sheep herds, he added, continue to face die-offs across the West because of interactions with domestic livestock.

The Packgoat Association plans to meet with the Forest Service and the judge, and Irvine hopes they can reach an agreement that allows recreationists to use pack goats in the Shoshone forest once again.

Follow Managing Editor Christine Peterson on Twitter @PetersonOutside.

(10) comments


Remove the goats & "Prairie maggots" and while you're at it, remove the invasive species of cattle too. The Bighorns, Deer and Elk were there first.

gw hayduke
gw hayduke

brown elk, how 'bout that, we agree on something, especially regarding the cows


I bet you’d like to remove the humans too, wouldn’t you.

Wise Woman

Yes! My feelings also.


The Forest Service again shows how out of touch and incompetent they are at managing our federal lands. We should fire them all and have local committees make the decisions and local workers perform all duties. Most of the jobs are just bureaucratic anyways and very little work actually performed by the FSA. We need local people making decisions and local workers benefiting from the employment not Washington appointees who constantly show their Eastern attitudes and management practices in large Western National Forests. Many people use pack goats for accessing these lands and leave very little impact on the land. Domestic sheep have been grazing these Forest areas for over 2 centuries now and have had no impact on wild sheep populations. We need to learn to allow multiple uses of these lands and not just turn them into useless lands off limits to all parties which the Forest Service is attempting here.

Ice fisher

I do not Understand why cows are in the wilderness areas either.. How are people with a few goats any different than others with lamas or horses? They probably Carry the same diseases.. If any current research identifies what diseases are causing problems for the bighorn sheep from domestic animals then all the animals entering the forest should be tested for them. If they are free from the diseases they should be let in for the next two months or so. I would bet that most people in the Wind River range go from basin to basin and lake to lake and spend minimal time up high where the Bighorns live. I do not like to camp on saddles or other high areas due to the terrain and weather. There must not have been any problem with the goat packing outfitter that was operating in the Wind River range for decades. My guess it that the Wild sheep foundation gave them a lot of money to move to another area. Why are goats and sheep always linked together? It seems like they should be delt with seperatly as well as lamas, horses, mules, and other animals. I was in a wilderness area two years ago and four people walked by with 6-7 dogs. That was a huge problem for me to see.


Bighorn sheep get pneumonia and other diseases from domestic "Prairie Maggots" sheep. Domestic sheep eat the grass down to the roots and then pull the roots and eat them. I've seen areas after domestic sheep had been grazed, that looked so devoid of plant life that a grasshopper would have to pack a lunch. It was grazed right down to the dirt. We've subsidized the sheep industry long enough. It's sink or swim time. Bighorns can also contract diseases from Lammas and Goats. They don't have any business in the wilderness either, both are invasive alien species just like the cattle. They all need to go IMO anyway. If all the sheep in Wyoming were removed we'd never miss them.


Sorry, llamas don't spread disease to Bighorn Sheep. That is a myth.
PackGoats are wormed and vaccinated yearly and enter the forest only with a health certificate. If they test negative for pathogens they pose no risk to BHS. Studies at WSU have confirmed that in 2015. Goats provide a way for the elderly and the disabled to still enjoy the wilderness areas. Bow hunters are staring to use them for elk hunting in order to pack their meat out. I have owned goats for ten years and they are a joy to hike with. They leave very little trace, compared to other livestock.

Wise Woman

I so agree with you, IMHO also. :)


Vigilguy, why does the USFS want the goat & Llamas removed? I only based my comment on what I've read on those two animals in the back country. I won't change my opinion about domestics...sheep and cows have no place in wilderness areas, or any Federal land for that matter.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.