A report, dated March 16, 2010, by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wild Sheep Working Group, summarizes the recent outbreaks of pneumonia in bighorn sheep that have occurred in Montana, Nevada, Washington, Utah, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Domestic sheep and goats are also known to be in close proximity to, and are suspected to have interacted with, bighorn sheep in many of the areas where outbreaks have killed hundreds of wild sheep region-wide. Contrary to recent reports in the media, there have been confirmed interactions between bighorn and domestic sheep associated with at least one of these outbreaks. Most notably there has been confirmed interaction in Montana where there have been severe outbreaks of pneumonia.
The report outlines many of the actions taken by the state agencies and what testing has been done. Many of the tests are still being conducted on samples from bighorn and domestic sheep and no conclusive results have been announced. It cannot be said that there has been no interaction between domestic and wild sheep. At the same time it cannot be said for certain that interaction has been the cause of all or any of these outbreaks, however there is overwhelming evidence that interaction between domestic sheep and goats results in widespread and rapid die-offs of bighorn sheep.
WAFWA WSWG Summary on winter 2009-10 BHS dieoffs
Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole
In 2007 the WAFWA Wild Sheep Working Group was created to give guidance to state, federal, and provincial agencies on how to manage domestic sheep and goats in wild sheep habitat. They produced a report to the agencies in June of 2007 but none of the recommendations have been implemented by the BLM or Forest Service. There are still numerous conflicts on the ground where domestic sheep and goat grazing is allowed within occupied bighorn sheep throughout the west. In some cases these conflicts have resulted in litigation and changes to land management plans are underway.
WAFWA Recommendations for Domestic Sheep and Goat Management In Wild Sheep Habitat
It is time for the BLM and Forest Service to implement strict guidelines which maintain separation between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep and goats. At minimum, permits for grazing and trailing sheep and goats on Federal lands in occupied bighorn habitats should be withdrawn. Farm flocks on private lands deserve some attention too. Programs for educating owners of farm flocks should be created and in some cases effective fencing to eliminate contact between the two should be offered or even required in areas where bighorn sheep are of high conservation value. Read the rest of this entry »