The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will take steps this week to assess whether a deadly pathogen has infected the Quilomene bighorn sheep herd in Kittitas County.
The Quilomene is one of the state’s largest bighorn sheep herds, numbering between 220 and 250. WDFW biologists anticipate having to lethally remove 15 sheep, and test 10 to 15 additional animals using nonlethal means, to assess if the herd is infected.
Wildlife biologists were notified on Oct. 1 that an off-duty Kittitas sheriff’s deputy had observed a domestic ewe with seven bighorn rams in a remote area of the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.
Wildlife biologists removed the domestic ewe with the owner’s permission on Oct. 6.
Subsequent testing at Washington State University’s veterinary diagnostic laboratory confirmed the ewe was a carrier of Mycoplasma bacteria, which causes fatal pneumonia in bighorn sheep.
“At this time, we know the ewe was with wild bighorns in the most southern portion of the herd’s range, where approximately 50 bighorns are located,” WDFW Region 3 Director Mike Livingston said. “What we have to find out is whether any of the wild sheep have contracted the disease from her.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but the operation, which will primarily target rams, should have minimal effect on the overall population.”
The disease, which is caused by the bacteria, is often fatal in wild bighorn sheep and can reduce the survival rate of lambs born to surviving animals for many years after the initial outbreak. There is no treatment for bighorn sheep, and no preventative vaccine.
“Once we know if Mycoplasma has infected the herd, we will have a better understanding of how to move forward,” Livingston said. “And we must move quickly because the breeding season has started and will peak within the next few weeks.”
During breeding season, rams within the herd often cover vast areas in search of a mate, which would substantially increase the probability of them infecting other bighorn sheep within the Quilomene herd.
Past outbreaks among bighorn sheep in Washington and other parts of the West have been linked to contact between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats that carry Mycoplasma but are unaffected by the bacteria. State and federal wildlife managers removed the entire Tieton bighorn sheep herd in 2013 to prevent the disease from spreading to other bighorn herds.
Sno-Park permits go on sale Nov. 1
The Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program reminds winter recreation enthusiasts that Sno-Park permits will be available for purchase beginning Nov. 1.
Sno-Park permits allow visitors to park in specially cleared, designated parking lots with access to areas around the state for cross-country skiing, skijoring, fat-tire biking, snowmobiling, snow biking, dog sledding, snowshoeing, tubing, snow play and other winter recreation activities.
Last year, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill to simplify the rules regarding Sno-Park permits. As a result, the Discover Pass is no longer required to accompany the daily Sno-Park permit in Sno-Parks on state parks property. (These areas are Crystal Springs, Easton Reload, Fields Spring, Hyak, Lake Easton, Lake Wenatchee, Pearrygin Lake and Mount Spokane.)
Seasonal Sno-Park permit holders were already exempted from displaying the Discover Pass at Washington State Parks Sno-Parks.
Sno-Park permits are sold in person and online Nov. 1 through April 30 and must be displayed on the permit holder’s windshield during that time frame.
DNR lifts temporary shooting ban
Due to recent rainfall and decreasing risk of large wildfires, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources lifted its temporary ban on the lawful discharge of firearms starting on Oct. 8.
The restriction, initially enacted Aug. 15, applied to state forests, community forests and other DNR-managed lands, temporarily banning the discharge of firearms for anyone engaged in activities other than lawful hunting.
This restriction was put in place to minimize the number of fires started while the Pacific Northwest witnessed a devastating wildfire season.
The reopening of shooting will take several days as DNR staff head out to recreation areas across the state to remove signs and open gates.
Shooters can review the guidelines set out in Washington’s Administrative Code (WAC) 332-52-145 (apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=332-52-145) for all the rules and regulations pertaining to discharging firearms on public lands.
Forest work could impact hunting in Asotin Creek area
Hunters who hunt the Weatherly Unit of the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area in southeast Washington may want to make alternative plans for the general firearm deer hunting season opening soon.
While the area is still open to public access, a forest restoration logging operation is underway that could impact hunters’ chances at success.
Logging to thin the forest will happen Monday through Friday during daylight hours through the end of the month. The operation had been scheduled to be complete prior to the opening of the hunting season, but fire restrictions delayed the work. Land managers are moving ahead with the restoration work so that the area is more resilient to wildfire and, as a result, better able to provide quality fish and wildlife habitat in future hunting seasons.
There are some alternative hunting areas in the region for those who may be displaced by this work.
“The 3,000-acre Weatherly Unit is a relatively small piece to the overall Asotin Creek Wildlife Area,” assistant wildlife area manager David Woodall said. “Hunters still have all that access, as well as adjoining U.S. Forest Service lands to use.”
For help finding places to hunt, go to WDFW’s places to go hunting web page (wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/prospects).
“We are asking hunters to plan ahead and apologize for any inconvenience,” Woodall said. “It’s important work to protect these lands while also reducing the wildfire risks for local communities and recreationists.”
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