Comment on IDFG’s Bighorn Sheep Management Plan

Don’t color outside the lines

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has released its Draft Bighorn Sheep Management Plan which essentially draws lines around existing bighorn sheep populations and prevents recovery to historical habitat. This is a big problem because the bighorn population has been in steep decline due to diseases spread by domestic sheep.

A population that recovered from over hunting and disease in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s started to increase after hunting regulations and reintroductions took place but the recovery was short lived and now the native and reintroduced populations have suffered from repeated contact with diseased domestic sheep and goats. The population numbered around 5000 in the 1990’s but is now about 2900 and continuing to decline.

Two areas, the Pioneer Mountains west of Mackay, and the Palisades east of Idaho Falls, are areas where dispersing sheep are commonly seen. Under this plan these areas have been essentially written off due to the presence of Federal sheep grazing allotments. Another area that isn’t included as a priority area for sheep recovery is the Sawtooths and the Boise and Payette drainages. These areas contain very suitable habitat yet there are domestic sheep allotments there as well.

The Management Plan is not likely to curb the declines in bighorn sheep populations and the IDFG is afraid to advocate for bighorn sheep conservation. They hold the power to really make the Federal agencies pay attention and close sheep grazing allotments but the IDFG is a captured agency that depends on the good graces of the livestock industry dominated legislature.

Comment on the Bighorn Sheep Management Plan.

The Comment Period Ends September 30, 2010.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bighorn sheep, domestic sheep, Idaho, politics, wildlife disease. Tags: , , , , . Comments Off on Comment on IDFG’s Bighorn Sheep Management Plan

Another pneumonia outbreak in Montana’s bighorn sheep

Herd lives close to site of previous die-offs

Bighorn Sheep lambs © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep lambs © Ken Cole

After last winter’s disastrous die-off of bighorn sheep in Montana, Utah, Nevada, and Washington State it seemed the news couldn’t get any worse for bighorn sheep. Well, today comes news of another outbreak of pneumonia in a heard of 100 bighorn sheep east of Hamilton, Montana. Officials have shot 8 of the sheep and have found at least 5 were suffering from pneumonia.

Pneumonia found in 5 bighorn sheep near Hamilton.
KULR-8 News

More Pneumonia Discovered in Montana’s Bighorn Sheep Population
New West

Payette National Forest Bighorn Sheep Decision Imminent

The Payette National Forest will be releasing its Record of Decision on July 30th

Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

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).”

Domestic sheep removed from East Fork Bitteroot

Sheep tested positive for Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae

Bighorn sheep in Montana and elsewhere suffered severe losses this winter at the hands of pneumonia. In the East Fork herd bighorn were seen interacting with domestic sheep near Sula, Montana. Those domestic sheep were relocated earlier this year and another herd has been removed from the area to protect the remaining 87 bighorn sheep that survived the outbreak this winter.

Survival of lambs is the big remaining concern in the affected populations and it is being closely monitored.

Bighorn Sheep, Hells Canyon © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep, Hells Canyon © Ken Cole

Domestic East Fork sheep removed.
by PERRY BACKUS – Ravalli Republic

FWP kills bighorn sheep to avoid disease outbreak

Posted in Bighorn sheep, disease, domestic sheep. Tags: , . Comments Off on FWP kills bighorn sheep to avoid disease outbreak

Severe pneumonia outbreak kills bighorn sheep

Lamb survival to be closely monitored for several years

Another overview story about the bighorn sheep die-offs around the west. Estimates of the death toll have reached 1000 bighorns.

Severe pneumonia outbreak kills bighorn sheep.
American Veterinary Medical Association

More on the Montana bighorn disease outbreaks

Same pathogen found in bighorn and domestic sheep after contact was observed

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Here are two stories outlining what happened this winter with the outbreaks of disease in bighorn sheep.  It appears that there are likely two different causes for the outbreaks.  In the East Fork Bitterroot it appears that bighorn contracted mycoplasma from a small herd of domestic sheep near Darby where the owner reported contact.  The sheep were later tested for disease and the samples matched what was found in the bighorn sheep.  To the north and east in the upper and lower Rock Creek herds and the Bonner herd it appears that something else is going on but, even though there are many domestic sheep in close proximity to these bighorn herds, no documented contact has been observed.  That doesn’t say much though and doesn’t eliminate the likelihood that contact occurred.  We’ve had reports on this blog of seeing domestic sheep in an area one day and bighorn sheep in the same area the next in this region.

It should be noted that the owner of the domestic sheep in the Sula, Mt. area has moved the sheep and is hoping that a new home can be found for them in an area that doesn’t have bighorn sheep.

Fortunately the outbreaks haven’t been as devastating as others on the basis of percentage.  Still, the overall numbers of bighorn sheep lost is staggering and the effects of the outbreaks will likely impact lamb survival for years to come.

Pneumonia outbreak cut bighorn herds in half
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian

Biologist: Bitterroot herd survived pneumonia outbreak
By PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic Read the rest of this entry »