The Payette National Forest will be releasing its Record of Decision on July 30th
Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole
After several years of litigation, the decision on how to manage domestic sheep on the Payette National Forest to maintain viability of bighorn sheep populations will be released on July 30. Several options were considered but few actually meet the so called “purpose and need” of the decision. Regardless of the decision, litigation will likely follow as there is a lot at stake.
Bighorn sheep, which have struggled with disease outbreaks caused by contact with domestic sheep, in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon will be affected by the decision. There are estimated to be approximately 1,000 California Bighorn Sheep and 1,800 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Idaho and only 700 of those are native Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep which live in central Idaho. This is approximately half of the population that existed in the late 90’s and trends indicate further declines.
Of greatest concern to the bighorn populations in Idaho is contact with domestic sheep and the fatal diseases which they carry. The limiting factor in the populations continues to be pneumonia and not weather, habitat, or predation. If the adult bighorn sheep are not dying outright from disease through contact with domestic sheep then their lambs are dying within weeks of being born thus, the bighorn are not replacing themselves at a rate fast enough to keep up with other mortality factors and are continuing to decline in population. For years after an outbreak lamb survival is the limiting factor.
From an email sent today by Forest Supervisor, Suzanne Rainville:
“The Record of Decision for the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Forest Plan Amendment Identifying Suitable Rangeland for Domestic Sheep and Goat Grazing to Maintain Habitat for Viable Bighorn Sheep Populations will be available to the public July 30 when it will be posted in the Federal Register. We plan to have documents available on the Forest website by July 27. I will be hosting a briefing of my decision on July 28 at the Boise National Forest Supervisor’s office at 10:00 AM in the Sunset and Bear Valley Conference Rooms. The address is 1249 S. Vinnell Way, Suite 200 (second floor above Social Security).”