Outdoors blog

WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, 2012, 6:12 A.M.

Idaho bighorns lack respect from state leaders

The Idaho Legislature essentially mandated that bighorn sheep be killed or moved if they wander onto public grazing allotments above Hell’s Canyon. The  (File The Associated Press)
The Idaho Legislature essentially mandated that bighorn sheep be killed or moved if they wander onto public grazing allotments above Hell’s Canyon. The (File The Associated Press)

WILDLIFE -- Idaho's bighorn sheep are coveted by hunters, only a handful of which are allowed to hunt them each fall.

They are a prize for wildlife viewers and a symbol of the wildness that set's Idaho apart from much of the world.

Yet Idaho lawmakers have turned their backs on efforts to keep bighorns separated in their native range from domestic sheep, which can transmit diseases that have decimated bighorn herds in areas such as Hells Canyon.

Outdoor columnist Rocky Barker has this sensible insight on the issue, pointing out that it really wouldn't be too hard for Idaho's governorn or other lawmakers to give bighorns a better shake. 

Meanwhile, as a recent SR story points out, sportsmen's groups are largely alone in trying to fund Washington State University research looking into preventing the domestic livestock transmission of diseases that are devastating wild sheep herds.

Read on for the details.

Wild-sheep group funds disease study

OUTSTANDING – The Wild Sheep Foundation gave Washington State University Veterinary School researchers $275,000 last week to carry on with the search for a vaccine against the pneumonia strain that has ravaged wild herds across the West.

Foundation chairman Jack Atcheson Jr. of Butte said money is the key to finding long-term solutions and called for others such as the livestock industry to join the effort.

“The load is a little heavy,” he said, suggesting that state and grazing industries have been less than proactive. “If more people helped, maybe we could speed up the process.”

With a vaccine still estimated to be a decade or more away, the foundation members meeting in Lewiston and Pullman last week stood solidly behind the strategy that calls for keeping wild sheep and domestics separated.

“For right now, temporal and spatial separation is the best technique we have,” said Kevin Hurley, foundation conservation director.

Domestic sheep carry bacteria that triggers the disease and has led to bighorn die-offs and lingering illness in herds across the Western U.S. and Canada, with herds in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River canyon among them.

Wildlife managers have called for a policy of separation that essentially amounts to ending domestic sheep grazing on public land, when grazing allotments overlap wild sheep habitat.

But Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, tried to stop, or stall the plan through riders attached to federal spending bills. His first effort was turned away by a federal judge and just last week he attached a second rider to a fiscal 2013 bill that funds the Forest Service and other land management agencies.




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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