Idaho Sheep Ranchers are Struggling Against Reality.
The law and science are not on their side so they are pressuring the State to come up with a solution to protect them.
On Thursday February 26th the second meeting of what is being called the “Bighorn Sheep/Domestic Sheep Advisory Group” was held in Boise. At this meeting there was no discussion of bighorn sheep (BHS) and domestic sheep (DS) issues just introductions and discussions about process and ground rules.
These issues were described as “non-negotiables”
*Group is advisory, no regulatory or legal authority.
*Idaho wants bighorn sheep and domestic sheep.
*Group is collaborative. Will develop collaborative recommendations & Products.
It appears that science and reality are against the goal of maintaining viable bighorn sheep populations as well as viable domestic sheep operations.
Domestic sheep and goats carry diseases which have little effect on their own health but can kill bighorn sheep and there is a consensus among biologists that this is true although a particular pathogen has not been identified in every case. It could be a single pathogen, multiple pathogens, or a suite of pathogens that kill BHS but it has been documented on many occasions that contact with DS results in the death of BHS by pneumonia. In some cases the disease kills animals in all age classes.
Presently the science that is being used by the US Forest Service and the BLM indicates that there should be a 9 mile separation between known bighorn sheep range and domestic sheep to limit the possibility of direct contact between the two. The US Forest Service has said that it takes less than one instance of direct contact between BHS and DS to threaten the viability of BHS and, by law, the USFS must manage for the viability of BHS. The Payette Forest has presented a plan to close domestic sheep allotments to reduce the possibility of contact between the two to less than once a year which is regarded as a minimum protection. Risk Analysis of Disease Transmission between Domestic Sheep and Bighorn Sheep on the Payette National Forest (PDF 187 KB)
There have been numerous instances documented where DS have strayed from their herds and long after they were supposed to be removed from the allotments were found wandering in Hell’s Canyon. I remember seeing a domestic sheep when I was a little boy deep inside the Frank Church Wilderness near Chamberlain Basin, it was straddled over a log and my dad freed it. I’ve even been told stories of hunting domestic sheep after a herder abandoned the herd weeks or months before.
People have worked long and hard to re-establish bighorn sheep to Hell’s Canyon but the herds there continue to show signs of disease exposure from domestic sheep and there is very little recruitment to the population that once numbered near 10,000.
In the Frank Church Wilderness and the Salmon River Canyon, where bighorn sheep are native and there have not been any reintroductions, the disease problem has had effects on populations far away from domestic sheep operations because of the long distances bighorn rams travel at times and because ewes from different populations sometimes share the same birthing grounds. In essence a curious bighorn could come into contact with a domestic sheep near Riggins then travel 60 miles to another heard and transmit disease to other bighorns deep in the wilderness.
The Lewiston Morning Tribune did an article about this last week but it was only available to subscribers. Now the Salt Lake Tribune has reprinted it.
Bighorn battle could doom sheep ranchers
Salt Lake Tribune
The sheep ranchers claim that they have an agreement which allows them to continue grazing in Hells Canyon but the agreement is not valid.
Brian Ertz writes this:
Read the agreement if you like:
1997 Hells Canyon Agreement
1. The Payette National Forest, the Forest that is taking action to preserve bighorn now, never signed any “agreement”, it was the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that signed the letter.
2. The letter suggests no such Forest obligation as is purported in the analysis provided by the article. The letter claims the 3 state departments are under such obligation with regard to management of bighorn.
3. Even if the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest was the Payette, a Forest has no authority to sign any such letter ‘accepting the risk’ in the first place. The 1982 Forest regulations maintain that Forests must provide for “species viability” – and the National Forest Management Act provides the statutory obligation that those regulations be followed. A Forest supervisor has no legal authority to trump those regulations and the will of Congress – that’s the point – even if the agreement were between the parties involved (which it’s not signed by the Payette – that party not allowing domestic sheep to graze in order to preserve bighorn), it’s not worth the paper its printed on.
4. The wild sheep being protected are native – they weren’t transplanted, Winmill made it very clear that this fact makes them uniquely valuable and subject to protection. And if you think about it, the agreement ought not to apply to those existing sheep – even if it were a legit agreement in the first place.