Published: May 3, 2011

Boulder, Colo. – Wild bighorn sheep in Idaho’s Payette National Forest now have a longer life expectancy thanks to the efforts of students at the University of Colorado’s Natural Resources Law Clinic.  The students successfully advocated for, and later defended, a decision by the Payette’s supervisor to restrict grazing by domestic sheep because of the risk they may pose to the wild bighorns.


Wild bighorn sheep are an iconic species of the Rocky Mountains and culturally important to Idaho’s Nez Perce tribe of Native Americans.  Bighorns were once abundant on the Payette and elsewhere in the Rockies, but their numbers have been severely reduced by habitat loss, disease, and other factors.  A species of bacteria carried by most domestic sheep and usually harmless to them, is a major threat to the remaining bighorns as it can cause a fatal pneumonia. The bighorns’ natural curiosity and social behavior exacerbates the transmission of the disease. Several herds of bighorns have died of pneumonia after coming in contact with their domestic cousins.


Currently, sheep ranchers may graze their domestic sheep on the National Forests only where authorized by permits from the U.S. Forest Service. However, the Forest Service is legally required to limit grazing so as to protect wildlife and other natural resources. In spring 2010, Natural Resources Law Clinic students Jacey Cerda and Rebecca Rizzuti, on behalf of the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), prepared a legal and scientific analysis showing that the Forest Service had ample authority, and a legal duty, to terminate domestic sheep grazing on portions of the Payette National Forest where bighorns are likely to come into contact with the domestic sheep.   

In summer 2010, the Supervisor of the Payette National Forest issued a decision largely following Cerda’s and Rizzuti’s recommendations.  The decision was hailed by wildlife advocates but opposed by sheep ranchers, who filed an administrative appeal of the decision.

Colorado Law students Taber Ward and Matt Samelson worked on behalf of IWF, NWF and the Nez Perce tribe to defend the decision, writing major portions of a brief used to support the Supervisor’s decision.   On April 8, 2011, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service announced the final affirmation of the decision.

“Experiential learning is an integral part of the learning process,” said Visiting Professor Joseph Feller, who along with Adjunct Professor Michael Saul, oversaw and advised the students working on the project. “For them to see the importance of the work they do in such a tangible way is really the best experience one can hope for with their students. We are thrilled for them, for the IWF and NWF and the Nez Perce tribe.”

About University of Colorado Law School

Established in 1892, the University of Colorado Law School ( is a top 25 public law school located at the base of the inspiring Rocky Mountains. Colorado Law’s 500 students, selected from among the statistically best applicants in the nation, represent 100 undergraduate institutions and diverse backgrounds. The school has dual degree programs in business, environmental studies, telecommunications, and public affairs. With a low faculty-to-student ratio, its highly published faculty is dedicated to interacting with students inside and outside the classroom. The school’s 8 clinics and 4 centers focus on areas of strength, including natural resources and environmental, American Indian, juvenile and family, telecommunications policy, and sustainable energy law. Colorado Law’s graduates are leaders in their profession and committed to public interest work.


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