The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave SW
July 8, 2014
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
I write regarding your June 17,2014 letter to appropriators in the United States House and Senate announcing your intent to close the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) U.S. Sheep Experiment Station ("Station") in Dubois, Idaho. You have indicated that Congress has 30 days to respond to the plan, and that the Station will permanently close November 3rd.
The Station provides substantial research and maintains long-term records that are critical to the western sheep industry. Furthermore, the Station significantly contributes sage grouse conservation efforts by maintaining records on lek counts and studying the effects of fire, climate, and grazing management on sage grouse lek populations. Given the importance of the Station to western agriculture and wildlife, I am deeply concerned by the process underway for permanent closure of the facility. It does not appear that USDA conducted a robust dialogue with either Congress or local stakeholders, including industry groups, before the decision was made.
I ask that you reconsider closing the facility and, in any case, extend the period for Congressional comment and delay the final closing date. The additional time can be used to work with stakeholders to ensure any changes to the administration of the Station will not result in a reduction in dedicated scientists or research funds for ovine matters.
Furthermore, in your Congressional notification you indicated that the cost of facility disposal and employee relocation will range from $3.5 million to $3.95 million, and that $1 ,984,000 in research funds will be distributed to non-sheep priorities, including sugarbeets, germplasm, and watersheds. Given that your stated justification for the closure is budgetary requirements, I ask that you provide a detailed and thorough analysis oftotal budgetary savings, if any, and a full justification for how repurposing these substantial funds away from ovine research will not negatively impact the industry.
Thank you, and I look forward to your response.