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Wild bighorn sheep are native to North America, and once numbered in the millions. But their numbers have drastically declined to just a few thousand. The biggest threat wild bighorns face is disease from domestic sheep.
Most experts agree that when wild and domestic sheep come into contact while grazing on the public lands, the wild sheep get sick and often die. What’s killing bighorns, they say, is a pathogen that is carried by domestic sheep. Bighorns with this pathogen can die or transmit a pneumonia-like disease to other bighorns. Lambs are especially vulnerable. Expert biologists and wildlife agencies recommend separating bighorn sheep from domestic sheep to minimize disease risk to the wild sheep.
Faced with declining Rocky Mountain Bighorn populations in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River regions of Idaho, the Payette National Forest is taking public comment on how to protect bighorn sheep from domestic sheep. Four ranchers have commercial grazing permits for about 20,000 head of domestic sheep on nearly 500,000 acres of public land in the Payette. To protect bighorn sheep, the Payette has proposed cutting nearly 60% of the public acres grazed by domestic sheep (called Alternative 7G).
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