About 90 percent of the wild bighorn sheep in Montana’s Elkhorn Mountains have died of pneumonia in what wildlife officials called an “all-age die-off.”
Tom Carlsen, a biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that had the die-off not occurred, the herd should have numbered about 220.
Only 19 bighorn sheep were found alive last week.
“I’m not aware of any place in Montana where we’ve had a die-off of this magnitude,” Carlsen said. “We lost more than 90 percent of the herd.”
The die-off was suspected in January after 12 sheep were found dead. Tests confirmed they had pneumonia, which bighorn sheep can catch through nose-to-nose contact with domestic sheep or goats.
Carlsen said there was some “mixing” of the bighorns with at least one domestic herd of sheep, and possibly with a herd of goats.
Luckily, the hatchery system builds in diversification and safeguards to help protect fisheries from disease outbreaks and bonehead mistakes, such as the recent one at a Clearwater Fish Hatchery that resulted in the loss of nearly 200,000 young spring chinook salmon ready for release into the Lochsa River.
The loss amounts to 46.2 percent of the spring chinook smolts release from the Powell facility this spring, but only 4.5 percent of the 4.4 million smolts produced in all Clearwater basin facilities.
Still plenty of snow
The crowds are gone, but backcountry skiers are still heading up plowed roads to make tracks at closed skiing resorts and beyond.
Mount Spokane cross-country skiers were still touch-up grooming tracks with a snowmobile this week.
At Sherman Pass, the Sno-Park lot is no longer being plowed but skiing and snowshoeing conditions are good.
Mount Rainier’s snowpack was 125 percent of normal this week at Paradise, but the news this year is how long the snow is lingering at lower elevations across the region.
At Rainier National Park’s Longmire area, for example, the snow depth last week was 47 inches — that’s 522 percent of normal.
Avalanche forecasters in the Inland Northwest warn that the snow pack has some buried weak layers. The typical stable spring conditions have not yet developed, they say.
Yakima deer down
Yakima-area deer populations are down about 50 percent in the last four years and, with the combination of this winter’s heavy snows and the potential resurgence in a hair-loss problem that has been hitting the herds, the outlook is not good.
“We’ve had a number of calls about the hair loss this year,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional biologist Jeff Bernatowicz Bernatowicz. “The reports are way up, and the calls were coming in earlier than normal.”
The hair loss is created by a louse that infects the deer and makes them scratch and lose their hair. It hits the yearlings the hardest, and what with all the snow this year, Bernatowicz fears that it doesn’t bode well for the local herd.
Yakima is the only region in Washington that does an overall population survey of its deer herds each year, making comparison difficult with the rest of the state.
Yakima Herald Republic