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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Found bighorn just short of Boone and Crockett world record

WILDLIFE — Close but no cigar for a bighorn skull found in Canada. It just misses world record status, the Boone and Crockett Club says.

A long winter buried in snow apparently swelled the horns of a bighorn sheep that died of natural causes. The ram was found this spring by Alberta wildlife officials and green-scored as a potential new world record. 

Following the Boone and Crockett Club's mandatory 60-day drying period, the ram's horns lost an astounding four inches in net score. The original scorers reconvened to find that every measurement was smaller on both horns. 

Still, with a final score of 205-7/8, the ram ranks No. 5 all time. It has been entered into Boone and Crockett records on behalf of the citizens of Alberta. 

The reigning World's Record, taken by a hunter in Alberta in 2000, stands at 208-3/8. 

“Though it's not a World's Record, it is another tremendous specimen symbolic of continuing, successful conservation programs. For that, we congratulate Alberta wildlife officials,” said Richard Hale, chairman of the Club's Big Game Records Committee. 

Hale added, “Biologists speculate this latest ram died of old age in early summer 2013, so the horns were exposed to the elements through the remainder of summer, all fall and all of a wet, snowy winter. Apparently, the horns absorbed an incredible amount of moisture, because four inches of shrinkage during the 60-day drying period is very rare.” 

The Boone and Crockett Club, long recognized as the leading authority on big-game recordkeeping, requires air drying all trophies at habitable room temperature for 60 days immediately prior to final scoring. It's a rule made precisely for this kind of situation. 

“By standardizing the scoring process as much as possible, we ensure the credibility of our records. That's very important for the biologists who use these data to compare and contrast outstanding habitat, strong recruitment into older age classes, sustainable harvest objectives and other elements of sound wildlife management. It's also important to sportsmen in that all trophies are being treated as equally as possible,” said Hale. 

Hunters missed shot at possible world record bighorn

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A massive bighorn sheep that died of natural causes and was later found by wildlife officials could be a new world record, according to the Missoula-based Boone and Crockett Club.

The ram was found in Alberta. The skull is in possession of provincial officials and will be entered into Boone and Crockett records on behalf of the citizens of Alberta.

“Many hunters are unaware that Boone and Crockett records include many found trophies,” said Richard Hale, chairman of the Club's Big Game Records Committee. “The main reason we keep records is to document conservation success. Although they aren't taken by hunters, found trophies are nonetheless an important gauge of outstanding habitat, strong recruitment of game animals into older age classes, sustainable harvest objectives and other elements of sound wildlife management. Picked-up trophies are an integral part of the conservation success story. Without them, the story is incomplete.”

Alberta biologists speculate the bighorn died in early summer 2013 at 10-1/2 years of age.

Boone and Crockett official measurers in Alberta taped the horns and alerted the Club they had totaled a preliminary green score that would exceed the current world record. That ram, also from Alberta, scored 208-3/8 B&C points and was taken in 2000.

Although Montana has been producing some tremendous rams in recent years, all Boone and Crockett world record bighorn sheep throughout history have come from Alberta.

The long-followed next procedural steps for certifying a new world record include an evaluation of an official score sheet (prepared after the required 60-day drying time) and photos, and officially entering the trophy into Boone and Crockett records. If all remains in order, the club will convene a special judge's panel to re-score the ram, confirm a final score and make a record determination.

An official announcement should follow within the next 90 days, said Hale.

Bighorn sheep gain ground in grazing lawsuit

PUBLIC LANDS — Good news for bighorn sheep, which have been squeezed and put at risk even on public lands in Idaho.

Judge upholds USFS's plan to reduce grazing to save bighorn
On Tuesday, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge A. Wallace Tashima, sitting by designation for the District of Idaho, issued a decision that upholds the U.S. Forest Service's plan to reduce grazing by 70 percent in the Payette National Forest in Idaho to protect bighorn sheep from contracting diseases from domestic sheep.
— Idaho Statesman 

Bighorn hunter says international guide stole his trophy

HUNTING — A short story version ran in the paper Saturday telling of a Montana big-game hunter who's suing a Canadian outfitter and a world-renowned hunting guide in Tajikistan for stealing the trophy horns of a rare wild argali sheep known as the “Marco Polo.”

He accuses the outfitters with switching his trophy with lesser horns as they were shipped to the USA.

The story is intriguing, since all of these guides are big-wigs at the annual Safari International conventions.

Click “continue reading” to see the entire story from the Associated Press.

Idaho commission funds predator control

PREDATORS — Programs to control wolves and ravens were funded by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Thursday.

The commission approved animal damage control funds with $50,000 going to control wolves in elk management zones at or below objective.

The panel also designted $12,000 to a Fish and Game raven control project for specified areas as part of an overall effort to keep sage grouse off the endangerd species list.  Ravens can zero in on the eggs and chicks of the prairie grouse in some cases.

Commissioners set nonresident tag quotas and outfitter nonresident set-aside quotas. They set nonresident quotas of 12,815 elk tags, 14,000 regular deer tags, 1,500 white-tailed deer tags; and nonresident deer and elk tag outfitters set-asides of 1,985 deer tags and 2,400 elk tags.

Wildlife officials presented briefings on possible sage-grouse and waterfowl seasons. Final season recommendations for both will be made to the commission in August.

A possible sage-grouse season would include a restricted season of seven days with a one-bird limit in the southern part of the Big Desert.

Eastern Owyhee and Twin Falls counties, the east Idaho uplands area, Elmore County and the west central part of the state would be closed.

The rest of the sage-grouse range in Idaho would be open under a restrictive season of seven days with a one-bird limit.

As for waterfowl, early indications suggest a liberal 107-day season with a seven-bird limit for ducks and a four-bird limit on geese.

The commissioners also heard an update on Fish and Game’s elk management plan revision progress. They were told to expect a draft of the new plan within about two weeks.

Biologists will kill Naches bighorns to curb disease

WILDLIFE — Noting that at least 25 wild sheep have already been found dead, state wildlife officials announced today they plan to euthanize a large percentage bighorns remaining in the Naches area to curb the spread of a deadly pneumonia outbreak running through the herd.  

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists and U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services staff plan to shoot wild sheep over the next few weeks in the Tieton herd, about 10 miles west of Naches.

Because most of the sheep are believed to be infected with a disease that causes pneumonia, almost all of the animals will likely need to be euthanized, said Richard Harris, WDFW manager for special species.

This is just the latest of several outbreaks that have wracked the region's bighorns.

Read on for details.

Where should line be drawn on big-game auction tags?

HUNTING — I'm getting reaction — mostly positive — on today's outdoors column regarding the record $480,000 auction bid for a Montana bighorn sheep hunting tag.

Some readers are concerned that in the pursuit of funding, more tags will be reserved for the rich and the average hunter will be marginalized.

Others say offering a few special tags that bring in big bucks for wildlife conservation is worth it for everyone.

Record $480K bid for Montana bighorn tag

HUNTING — An anonymous hunter has paid an all-time record $480,000 for a special permit offered by the state of Montana to hunt a wild mountain sheep with liberal rules on dates and areas.

The winning bids for tags offered by Montana and other states, tribes and provinces were made in four auctions at the annual convention of the Wild Sheep Foundation held at Jan. 31-Feb. 2 in Reno, Nev.

Wild sheep tags are auctioned at the convention to raise money for wildlife conservation.  And this was a banner year, where some 40 tags raised a record $3.2 million.

The 2013 Wild Sheep Foundation Convention and Sporting Expo set six records for the highest amounts bid on auction for special permits. Other records were set for overall attendance and funds raised for wildlife and other  programs.

The Montana bighorn sheep tag bid of $480,000 shattered the state's record of $300,000 set in 2012.

  • The bid also surpassed the foundation's previous all-time record bid of $405,000 for a bighorn sheep tag, set in 1999 for the Alberta’s Minister’s Special License.

The British Columbia permit sold for $275,000, topping the province's record of $250,000 set last year.

The Oregon Rocky Mountain bighorn permit brought $135,000 bettering the $130,000 record set in 2011.

WASHINGTON'S bighorn tag sold for $64,000, down from the record $100,000 set in 1994 before a pneumonia epidemic nearly wiped out the state's trophy herds near the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers. 

IDAHO'S bighorn tag sold for $150,00, down from a record bid of $180,000 in 2005.

Although this year's bids for Idaho and Washington tags didn't set records, the wildlife managers for those states said they were very pleased with the bids.

The Wild Sheep Foundation, which keeps an overall average of 7 percent of the bid prices for its worldwide programs, has pledged millions of dollars to research to help fight diseases affecting wild sheep in the Snake River region of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Since forming in 1977, the Wild Sheep Foundation and its chapters and affiliates have raised and expended more than $90 million on conservation, education and conservation advocacy programs in North America, Europe and Asia.

The tag auctions began in 1980 with the Wyoming Governor's Tag.

These and other efforts have resulted in a four-fold increase in bighorn sheep populations in North America from their historic 1950-70s lows of  about 17,000 to about 70,000 today, foundation officials say.

Click “continue reading” for more details and milestones set at the 2013 convention:

Requiem for Bam Bam, park’s head-butting bighorn

WILDLIFE — Bam Bam, the bighorn sheep whose penchant for butting cars made him an international star, died of natural causes in Wyoming last week.  He was believed to be 12.

Bam Bam was the last of the Wheatland-area Sinks Canyon State Park bighorn herd, surviving a plague of pneumonia that wiped out the park’s sheep population in the middle of the last decade. Friends said he loved a scratch on the ear, Doritos and a good head butt.

I don't post this to support anyone's notion that feeding wildlife is a good idea.  It's lucky no one was hurt by this ram.  But I like the rest of the story as described nicely here by Benjamin Storrow in the Star-Tribune.

Photographer focuses on battling bighorn rams

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Bighorn rams defy the concussion issue plaguing the sport of football.

With unbelievable power they reserved for the mating seasons, males prove their superiority with a challenging ram by squaring off and rising to their hind feet to “ram” their horns together. The impact sounds like the boom of a high-powered rifle.  They usually back off to collect themselves, their eyes bugged out and rolling a bit — then they often do it again!   And AGAIN.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson scored big time with bighorns this month as he found a group of rams vying for the distinction to breed.

He not only scored great profiles and head-ramming photos, but also one of the best photos I've seen of an unusually aggressive ram launching a foe airborne with a blow to the ribs. Ouch!

He also got a shots of the broken, or “broomed” ends of the tough horns on some rams after their breeding-right battles. 

Finally, he visited the bighorns recently as the rut apparently had wound down, showing rams that looked a bit exhausted from the wear and tear.

  • Click “continue reading” to see a small selection of the “thousands of images” Jaime and his photographer wife Lisa shot of this band of wild sheep.
  • See video of bighorn rams in battle.

Tennessee hunter wins Idaho bighorn raffle tag

HUNTING — After 30 years of dreaming for a chance to hunt bighorn sheep, Rob Durrett, 56, of Clarksville, Tenn., has won the 2012 raffle for a prized Idaho Rocky Mountain bighorn tag. 

“It’s a life-changing adventure,” he told IFG officials

Every year Idaho Fish and Game provides one tag for a bighorn sheep in Idaho, marketed by the Idaho Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation. The winner will be able to hunt in any unit open to hunting for Rocky Mountain or California bighorn in 2012, pursuant to Fish and Game rules.

This year’s lottery tag includes the coveted Unit 11, in Hells Canyon of the Snake River. Unit 11 is available to the lottery winner only in alternating years.

Durrett has been putting in for an Idaho bighorn sheep tag for the past seven years.

“I always heard Idaho was good place to hunt sheep, and a beautiful, beautiful place,” he said, beaming with excitement. His father was a fan of Jack O’Connor, and the young Durrett grew up on O’Connor’s hunting stories.

Read on for more details.

Truck wipes out 30 percent of bighorn herd’s lambs

WILDLIFE  — A Missoula-area bighorn herd that's been ravaged by disease suffered another blow recently as a single truck wiped out a third of this season's bighorn lamb reproduction in the lower Rock Creek drainage.

The unidentified Idaho driver collided with seven lambs while driving near the Rock Creek Trout Bums fly shop along the popular fishing stream south of Interstate 90.

“A tragedy in itself, the deaths also hammered a herd already halved by a pneumonia outbreak two years ago,” says the story in the Missoulian.

“They were just super frisky, and they played in a group,” said Trout Bums co-owner Deb Peltier. “They came off the mountain racing, like they always do. They were like toddlers – oblivious to everything. When I got there, there were baby sheep laying everywhere like bowling pins. It was a horrible, awful sight.”

Excessive speed on the county road is a regular problem, local authorities say.

Idaho bighorns lack respect from state leaders

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.

Harmful wild sheep measure removed from House bill

WILDLIFE — A coalition of sportsmen-conservationists today applauded the elimination of a controversial amendment from a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill that would have prohibited implementation of a science-based management plan for bighorn sheep populations in a national forest in Idaho.

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agenciesand Wild Sheep Foundation roundly praised Rep. Mike Simpson’s decision to withdraw his rider to the House appropriations bill for interior, environment and related agencies.

The amendment would have prevented advancement of a management plan in the Payette National Forest that separates bighorn sheep from domestic sheep grazing on public lands. Simpson, of Idaho, is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

Bighorn ram-fest at Lake Roosevelt lowlands near Lincoln

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A herd of Lincoln County bighorn sheep offered a convenient wildlife watching  opportunity Sunday to people who live below Lincoln near Lake Roosevelt.

The state offers only one hunting permit a year for a ram from this herd, said Fish and Wildlife officer Curt Wood.

The landowners who shared the photo said this group of rams included 24 animals, about half young ones.

The ewes, of course, are out on their own delivering this year's new crop of wild sheep.

Ross’s gull not the only attraction in Okanogan County

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The rare occassion of a Ross's gull showing up in Washington has become one of the most notable winter attractions to the Loomis area in a long time.

Birders from east and west of the Cascades are flocking to Okanogan county to get a peek at the bird, which has been regularly feeding on a submerged deer carcass along the shore.

But the gull isn't the only wildlife worth seeing near Loomis, as you can see from these photos by birder Kenneth Trease.

To see one of the best and most creative photos I've seen of the gull, check out the “local rarities” photo posted today by Spokane birding photography ace Tom Munson on his wildlife website.

Check out this report by Spokane birder Gina Sheridan:

 On Wednesday (12/21/11), Kim Thorburn, Garrett MacDonald, and I made the long haul up to Palmer Lake. The beautiful ROSS'S GULL entertained the entire bevy of birders present with a great show.While enjoying the Ross's Gull, a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE flushed out of the riparian tree border by the lake.

 In the quaint community of Loomis, a herd of Bighorn Sheep were nonchalantly roaming around. A couple of the rams had impressive racks, and it was real treat to view them at such close range. In addition, there were a least 20 EURASIAN COLLARED DOVEs and several CLARK'S NUTCRACKERs adorning the town's trees.

After an afternoon drive over the entire Cameron Lake Road route in search of an Okanogan Snowy Owl, we were disappointed to find the entire Timentwa Plateau totally raptor-less.

Fortunately, we did find a handsome pair of PACIFIC LOONs at the foot of Chief Joseph Dam (Okanogan/Douglas County).

Winter doesn’t chill bighorn ram’s desire

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The party's over for elk.  Bull moose have given up on the girls.  Deer are losing their urges and getting serious about consuming enough calories to endure the winter.

Meanwhile, bighorn sheep are getting it on.

December is the peak of the rut for the masters of rock ledges, as the males earn their names by ramming heads together to determine who's the fittest to breed.

The bighorn ram pictured above is lip-curling at the beginning of December much as the whitetail buck was as it entered its peak of breeding in November.  

Wildlife photographer Jaime Johnson of Lincoln, Mont., captured the similar behavior of both animals with his camera.

When bucks or rams come to where a doe or ewe has urinated, they often curl their lips to trap the female's odor in their nose and mouth and analyze the scent for clues to the female's estrus stage.


Bighorn ram evaded hunters, poachers, but fell to car

BIG GAME — A Washington bighorn ram that had endured countless hardships, evaded predators and the occasional hunter lucky enough to draw the rare bighorn sheep hunting permit for the Vulcan Mountain area met its end in a collision with a motor vehicle last week along the Kettle River in Ferry County. 

Wildlife biologists viewing the photo above estimated the ram was 8 1/2-9 1/2 years old.

Hayden man fined $13,000 for poaching trophy bighorn in Montana

POACHING —  A 64-year-old Idaho North Idaho man has agreed to pay more than $13,000 in restitution and fines and will lose his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for life for illegally obtaining a Montana hunting license and killing a trophy bighorn sheep in north-central Montana, the Associated Press reports.

Roger J. Woodworth of Hayden, Idaho, was sentenced Nov. 6 by District Judge Nels Swandal as part of a plea agreement with Fergus County prosecutors, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials.

FWP officials say Woodworth illegally bought a Montana resident hunting license in 2009, then applied and was drawn in the lottery for a bighorn license in the Missouri River Breaks north of Lewistown, where he shot the ram.

A tip led to the charges against Woodworth, who was required to give up the bighorn sheep trophy mount.

Smoke make have provoked latest bighorn dieoff in western Montana

WILDLIFE – Montana wildlife officials say another pneumonia outbreak has killed several bighorn sheep in the Skalkaho area in western Montana.

Officials tell the Missoulian that two dead sheep recently died from severe cases of pneumonia, and that a third sheep had been dead too long to identify the cause.

Veterinarian Brent Rice of Hamilton says smoky conditions in the area from forest fires might have stressed the bighorns and made them more susceptible.

Officials say that if the outbreak spreads it would be the seventh major die-off of bighorns in western Montana since 2009.

Sportsman Channel features Washington’s No. 1 bighorn hunt


BIG-GAME HUNTING — The 2010 scouting effort and hunt to bag Washington's No. 1 California bighorn sheep will be featured on the Sportsman Channel's SOLO Hunters program on Aug. 7.

The episode follows Arron Roth and his wife, Angie, as they log 23 scouting trips in Eastern Washington and finally harvest a Chelan County ram that scored 190 6/8 Boone and Crockett points.

SOLO Hunters hunt for the challenge of a hard fought DIY (do it yourself) hunt despite the elements or terrain. The show features  no-frills hunts in which the sportsmen rely on their feet and hunt off their backs or on land that they have researched, scouted and mastered for their rare opportunity to take a trophy.

WSU study tests new vaccine for bighorn sheep

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Reseachers may finally be on track of a tool to deal with the diseases wreaking havoc with bighorn sheep herds in the West.

 A Washington State University wildlife disease researcher has produced an experimental vaccine that appears to have protected four bighorn sheep against deadly pneumonia.

Subramaniam Srikumaran, the WSU professor in Pullman, says his findings are a promising but concedes years of work remain to help safeguard wild bighorn herds from periodic die-offs that have plagued the species in Idaho.

Read on for more details from an Associated Press report:

Photographer fined for baiting bighorn

WILDLIFE — A Montana photographer has been convicted of illegally feeding bighorn sheep near Big Sky Road in order to photograph them with the area's signature mountain — Lone Peak — in the background.

The state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department says 35-year-old Ryan Molde pleaded guilty on Feb. 14, was fined $1,035 and sentenced to 180 days in jail with all but 10 suspended. Molde also was ordered to surrender all photographs related to the feeding and is prohibited from selling any in the future.

FWP Warden Jen Williams says Molde was given a written warning in 2010 for feeding game animals. She says the feeding may have led to three bighorn sheep being struck and killed by vehicles in the area where he was feeding them.

Region’s bighorns slammed by disease

WILDLIFE — Bighorn sheep took a big hit in the Yakima region as well as in Western Montana in 2010, and no one can say the carnage is over.

Pneumonia killed many of the bighorns outright while wildlife managers shot and killed even more to help curb the spread of disease.
The outbreak in Washington occurred in the Umtanum herd near Yakima. Of the 300 Umtanum sheep, going into the outbreak in 2009, 42 were found dead and 69 were shot and killed.
With the statewide bighorn population at about 1,600, biologists will monitor the Umtanum herd and hope for the best this winter.
“Lamb production was not good, and we know we'll see more sick animals, but we hope the disease will at least hold the course,” said Donny Martorello, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department bighorn manager.
In Western Montana, around two thirds of several bighorn herds were wiped out by pneumonia and culling by state wildlife officials trying to thwart the spread of disease.

UI clears Bulgin of ‘scientific misconduct’

The University of Idaho has cleared professor and Caine Veterinary Center official Marie Bulgin of “scientific misconduct” after an inquiry into her writings and testimony denying that wild bighorn sheep contract disease from domestic sheep, despite earlier research by the center showing such a link. Bulgin is a former president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Caine Center head relieved of duties

The University of Idaho announced today that as it continues its investigation into testimony by the head of its Caine Center for Veterinary Medicine that there’s no evidence of disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep - despite research at the center showing such a link back to 1994 - it is relieving the director of all administrative duties at the center and from all work related to sheep and sheep-related diseases. Marie Bulgin, a professor of veterinary medicine, made the statements in testimony both to the 2009 Idaho Legislature and in federal court documents; she is a past president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association. Lawmakers this year passed legislation protecting domestic sheep ranchers; that short-circuited a collaborative effort to balance interests between wild bighorns and domestic sheep. Click below to read the university’s full statement today.

Nez Perce Tribe: Bighorn collaborative killed by legislation

The Nez Perce Tribe today notified Gov. Butch Otter that, in light of new bighorn sheep legislation sponsored this year by sheep producer Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, and signed into law by Otter, the tribe can no longer participate in the governor’s Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Collaborative. Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the tribal executive committee, said, “The Nez Perce Tribe is disappointed the state has suspended the collaborative process in favor of a legislated solution. We appreciated Governor Otter’s efforts to convene the Idaho Collaborative, but we are frustrated that Senator Siddoway’s legislation has undermined the Governor’s effort by legislating a political fix instead of allowing the collaborative process an opportunity to work.” He added, “Legislating wildlife management has never resulted in lasting solutions.”

Brooklyn Baptiste, vice chairman for the tribe, said, “I assume that Senator Siddoway did not see the value of collaborating with the Nez Perce Tribe or with Governor Otter to aid him in developing his legislation. As I understand it, Mr. Siddoway pushed this legislation through because he was concerned about the effects of introduced bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon on domestic sheep producers. However, his legislation doesn’t just target Hells Canyon. It protects all domestic sheep grazing at the expense of bighorn sheep in close proximity to their operations, including the Salmon River population, the last remnant native population in Idaho.”

Otter vetoed an earlier version of Siddoway’s legislation, but then accepted a modified version. He signed SB 1232a into law on May 7.