Ken Cole finds ID Fish & Game, wolves, coughing bighorn

Coughing bighorn. That is so ominous!

So our editor, Ken Cole, just got out of the Frank and the Salmon River Mountains. Very interesting news.

An ID Fish and Game helicopter was getting fueled at Corn Creek Bar. The two people in the chopper said they had seen some wolves but none collared. On the trail, Cole found a freshly-killed elk wolves had nailed. The next day he found it had been pretty much all eaten during the night.  He said there’s no way they could collar wolves in the steep country where he was.

Next week Fish and Game is moving into the Middle Fork. Heads up to all the spotters there.

Ken saw lots of deer and elk and bighorn, but one very scary thing about the bighorn — four of them were coughing badly. That was on the slope near the confluence with the Middle Fork.   Has the Montana plague spread into central Idaho? Does anything other than pneumonia cause them to cough?  What a dismal development? He reported his observations to the ID Fish and Game office in Salmon.

Coughing Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Coughing Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Helicopter doing game surveys in Frank Church Wilderness © Ken Cole

Helicopter doing game surveys in Frank Church Wilderness © Ken Cole

21 Responses to “Ken Cole finds ID Fish & Game, wolves, coughing bighorn”

  1. matt bullard Says:

    I know the folks at Taylor Ranch on Big Creek have been trying to find out whether their resident herd of bighorn have pneumonia for several years now. On a visit there about 3 January’s ago, they were sending lung samples out for analysis from a young bighorn that had been killed the night before my arrival. I never followed to up find out the results, but I would not be surprised…

  2. Hailey Says:

    What is causing all the outbreaks it the question. It is easy to blame domestics and the are usually the reason but some of these herds are not around domestic sheep and something else has to be triggering it. If it remains dormant for years after domestic are removed wouldn’t we see it in other areas.

  3. Jeff Says:

    I know some people who pack with goats, what is the risk of these animals transmitting disease to bighorns?

  4. Dusty Roads Says:


    That’s possible, I think.

    Another thing is that the mouth of the Middle Fork is not that far in miles from outbreak in the East Fork of the Bitterroot.

    That’s in Montana, but as a straight line it isn’t that far.

  5. Layton Says:

    Is there still speculation that goats too can carry/cause the infection in the big horns?

    I know I’m asking the same question that Jeff did, but I thought the possibility of goats infecting the wild ones (sheep) had been put to bed.

  6. Ralph Maughan Says:

    Layton, as for myself, I just don’t know.

  7. Layton Says:

    Is this something that they were working on at that facility in Parma? I think the lady from the U of I was running it and got into trouble over ignoring studies from her people. As I remember one of the folks doing the study was her own daughter.

  8. bigbrowntrout Says:

    I remember seeing some bighorns near Gardiner once coughing. The guy I was with, who knows much more than myself said something about lungwart? Not sure about the spelling. He said a diesese called lungwart can cause them to cough like that. Maybe not Pneumonia? Dunno just a thought

  9. Ralph Maughan Says:

    Ken Cole will probably be back on-line soon. He knows more about bighorn than I do. I had the same thought as you “bigbrowntrout.”

  10. Larry Thorngren Says:

    I think he probably meant lungworm, which damages the sheeps lungs and can make them susceptable to pneumonia. Lungworm causes the sheep to cough and most bighorns have some level of infestation. I heard bighorns in Yellowstone, just above Gardiner, coughing this past fall, but they didn’t appear to be sick.

  11. Ken Cole Says:

    Goats are a known source of infection but there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of research into this. That being said, if you use goats for packing or own goats in bighorn country, keep them away from bighorn sheep.

    Here is a comment from a story that I remember from early 2008:

    Elkhorn Says:
    April 9, 2008 at 11:49 AM
    Here’s something to chew on..
    I live right at the base of the elkhorn mountain range. I’ve enjoyed the bighorns immensely and have watched the herds grow and spread. Then along came a couple of people who apparently think the laws pertaining to keeping their animals inside their property does not apply to them. They have sheep and goats (over 100) and laamas. They just let them roam wherever. When one dies of who knows what near their home, they have atleast one dump. I found one of these dumps in early 2007 and notified F&G and BLM (as it was on BLM). F&G weren’t interrested enough to call me back but BLM has done what they can with these people. The killer here, is that this dump-off site (which had not only dead domestic sheep but poached mule deer as well) was right where a large herd of bighorns frequented. I was afraid the bighorns would contract whatever the domestic sheep has died from. So, I did what I could do and left it at that.
    Last weekend some friends of mine who like to hunt elk horns found another site where a domestic sheep (most probably from the above people’s herd) had died in an old holding pen. Only 100 yards away a bighorn ram was also dead. Both appeared to have died late last fall or early winter (07). Gosh, where do you suppose the bighorns got this?

    Here are my thoughts about what I saw yesterday. These sheep were resting in the morning sun right next to the road and I had been watching bighorn sheep most of the previous day and that morning. None of the other 60+ sheep were coughing. I don’t know what the cause could be but I did report it to one of the biologists who was on his way to meet the helicopter. He saw the sheep and his response was that it was not a good thing that they were coughing.

    When I got to Salmon I reported my observation to the receptionist who told me that someone had already called the veterinary health center. I don’t know what comes next. Is the IDFG going to kill one of the sheep to try to determine what was causing it to cough? I presume that is what happens next.

    I am hopeful that these sheep were suffering from something that is merely a chronic condition and will not be fatal. However, I fear the possibility that this may be something worse because these sheep are native sheep. They are very important in this regard.

    On another note, one of the questions I have been asking myself is one about the relationship between wolves, elk and bighorn sheep. Central Idaho has some very rugged terrain where bighorn sheep have a great advantage over wolves and are not a very important prey species for wolves. In contrast, are elk at a disadvantage because of this same terrain? It would seem to me that might be the case after seeing the carcass of a very freshly killed elk carcass that had been only half consumed on Wednesday morning and fully consumed yesterday morning. The elk was taken down in some very rugged and rocky terrain where the elk had no clear escape route.

    Here is the crux of my question. If there weren’t disease, weed, and harvest issues, would bighorn sheep increase in response to wolves and less competition for forage from elk? I’m sure it’s a question that won’t be resolved because of the disease issue and invasive weeds but when you look at historical accounts of this area bighorn sheep far outnumbered elk and deer. They were the foundation for Sheepeater or Tukuaduku tribes who inhabited the area and made highly valued bows made from bighorn horns.

    Are there areas where this has already been examined? Canada?

  12. Dave Says:

    Utah just killed 24 or 26 bighorns near dutch john near the res, for coughing. The result is Bacterial Pneumonia. Might be the same thing.

  13. Larry Thorngren Says:

    Goats should be banned from being used in bighorn habitat.
    Several years after we reintroduced bighorns in the Lost River Range, I was hiking in Elbow Canyon near Mackay. I saw two feral domestic goats just a few hundred yards from some bighorns. It wasn’t very long afterward that the bighorns started having disease problems. I have always regretted that I didn’t immediately go to my parents’ house at Moore,Idaho and borrow a rifle and kill both goats.
    If you see feral domestic goats in any wild area, shoot them.

  14. joel Says:

    If you don’t mind me asking, roughly where were you hiking? I only ask because I’m curious to know where in the Frank it is possible to hike this time of year. Or if you have other suggestions of access points or trails that aren’t snowed in, I’d appreciate hearing about them. I have some time off in a couple weeks and would like to get into some wild country. Others please feel free to chime in too. Thanks.

    Great pictures and report too, Ken.

  15. Resource User Says:

    I you do enough research you will find that stress can trigger the release of the mycoplasma that all animals on the forest have in the hair folicles in their throats. Stress from predation, lack of food, lack of water, people and other animals can trigger the problem pathogen to be released into the throat and then asperated in to the lungs even in the absence of Domestic Sheep. WSU is on track and Dr. Sri and Dr. Cassier are exploring the tip of the preverbial iceberg on what is really happening here with the two species. I think it is happening even in the absence of Domestic sheep. Where it lays dormant is another factor. Ground, air, lungs. I have seen necroscopys where BHS just fell over. Looked fine on the outside, bodys in good shape, not emaciated and green grass in thsir mouths. But the lungs were scared from previous bouts with pnumonia. Lungs stuck to the ribs and headled over. It’s even happening in Iran and Spain.

  16. Ralph Maughan Says:

    Resource User,


    Do you have any idea what kind of stress has emerged so that such a widespread die off is taking place?

  17. bryantolsen Says:

    I don’t know about how this winter has been up north, but here in Utah we had months of stagnant air with terrible inversions and air quality. I have always wondered how that bad air effects wildlife,especially birds,which have very sensitive lungs, and Bighorn Sheep,which already have a hard time with their lungworm problems. I have noticed in recent years how hazy it is,even in the backcounry,thanks to the oil boom, and all the blow over for the big cities. Wildlife didn’t evolve with that shit in the air. Bighorn Sheep used to be the dominant ungulate in much of the deserts of the Great Basin and Southwest, but were totally decimated by parasites contracted form domestic livestock,which they have little immunity from. All we really have now are just scattered remnant populations that are always on the edge of extinction. Sad because they are one tough animal that can live in places were no other ungulates can.

  18. Richie, Giallanzo,NJ Says:

    To bryantolsen;
    Are you saying that it is the oil industry and the emerging big city population that might be causing this. Pointing to the oil, do you mean the oil pits that extract oil from rock in Colorado ? You know they are really thinking of doing this big time in Montana ,look at that oil and gas commercial for BP, it is on all the time on I turn on the tube.

    • bryantolsen Says:

      Its just an observation, that air quality in the west has really gone down hill the last decade or so in the west,even in rural area. I think all the oil development may have something to do with that. They do have to burn fuel to run the pumps, and all the big rigs that haul the oil. Plus refineries and all the new coal burning plants everywhere. I remember climbing summits in the Uintas of Utah, and just seeing a thick haze hanging over all of southern Wyoming as I looked north. Also at the Grand Canyon, there was a lot of haze too,probably from LA, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. I don’t know what effect it may be having,but I don’t imagine it is a good one.

  19. Don Riley Says:

    Thank you for your time & effort the last few days.


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