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Nearly 100 sheep die in closed Monsanto mine

Oct 13, 2012 - By John Miller, The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho -- At least 95 domestic sheep died after grazing inside a mothballed Monsanto Co. mine in southeastern Idaho, adding to the list of animal fatalities over the last two decades in the region's rich but contaminated country.

Monsanto, which makes Roundup-brand herbicide from the phosphate it digs up in Idaho, announced the sheep deaths Friday afternoon.

Company spokesman Trent Clark says the sheep died after eating plants in the Henry Mine, an open pit where mining stopped in 1989 but that remains the subject of Environmental Protection Agency cleanup oversight. A federal lab at Utah State University confirmed the sheep likely died after ingesting western aster, which accumulates selenium from contaminated soil.

Clark says a herder entered the pit with 1,200 sheep earlier this week without permission. According to Monsanto, the herder noticed several getting sick and moved them, but by then it was too late for 95 animals.

"We have already initiated preventative actions, including more clearly marked signage on fences and gates, and locked gates where appropriate," the company said. "In addition, we will continue working with the rangeland plant specialists as part of a program of aster identification and control. Based on these remedies and conversations with the owner about best grazing practices in the future, needless losses of this kind will be avoided."

Robert Ball, an owner of the Ball Brother's Sheep Company whose animals died, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Selenium is unearthed with phosphate in Idaho's sparsely populated high country just southwest of Yellowstone National Park.

High concentrations of the element can be dangerous or deadly.

In 2009, for instance, eighteen cattle died near Idaho's defunct Lanes Creek Mine where mineral rights were controlled by fertilizer-maker J.R. Simplot Co. -- also after eating contaminated aster.

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