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Field reports: Yakima Canyon bighorn sheep testing identifies, removes pneumonia carriers

A bighorn ram and other sheep stand on the edge of a cliff in an undated photo in Hells Canyon, Idaho.  (AP)
A bighorn ram and other sheep stand on the edge of a cliff in an undated photo in Hells Canyon, Idaho. (AP)
From staff and wire reports

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday it will begin two rounds of aerial bighorn sheep captures through February in an effort to control the Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (Movi) disease affecting the Yakima Canyon herd.

For more than a decade the pathogen, a type of pneumonia that negatively affects lamb survival, has continued to persist in the herd, likely due to asymptomatic carriers. Similar situations in the past have required entire herds to be removed in order to avoid the risk of spread to other herds.

“The upcoming management trial is an experiment many years in the making,” WDFW Region 3 Director Mike Livingston said. “We’re trying a ‘test and remove’ process that has been successful in other Western states but is still fairly new in Washington. We’re working closely with partners in Idaho, Oregon and the Wild Sheep Foundation to learn from this situation and if the approach could help clear pneumonia from other herds.”

The goal is to test and collar as many of the herd’s 100 adult sheep as possible. This process, which will help biologists to better understand the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, will be followed by efforts designed to allow the herd to become healthier by removing the sheep that are identified carriers.

Federal judge overturns sage grouse decision

A federal judge on Thursday overturned a Trump administration decision to strip protections from 10 million acres, mostly in Nevada and Idaho, to allow mining in vital habitat for greater sage grouse, the latest in a series of court victories for sage grouse conservation.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill said the Bureau of Land Management failed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for canceling its own earlier proposal to protect the highest-priority sagebrush habitats from hard-rock mining.

His decision follows an earlier ruling stemming from a 2016 lawsuit filed by conservations groups, finding that Trump administration changes to federal land management plans failed to protect the iconic Western bird from fossil fuel development, grazing and mining.

In the ruling, the judge recognized a 2011 BLM analysis as the best available science on sage-grouse conservation measures, an analysis the Trump administration ignored. The judge also noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied on designating sage grouse priority habitat areas and conservation projections in its 2015 decision to deny protections for greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

Anglers needed to collect Idaho steelhead

Since 2010, IIDFG has been recruiting volunteer anglers to catch adult steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River. Hatcheries rely on anglers from around the region, other states, and other countries to collect steelhead broodstock on the South Fork Clearwater River each year.

Fisheries managers depend on anglers to collect these fish because no weirs are operated on the South Fork Clearwater River to trap steelhead. These fish are collected to develop a localized steelhead broodstock for the South Fork.

Through early April, Fish and Game staff will be out on the river from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, distributing tubes at popular fishing holes and signing up anglers interested in participating in the program. The program will continue until broodstock goals are met, or until early April, whichever comes first.

Anglers who would like to participate in the program will sign a volunteer form, which allows them to handle steelhead with an intact adipose fin as they put them into a tube.

Fish and Game staff will distribute PVC tubes each morning in fishing areas, where steelhead can be safely transported from the river to the hatchery truck and where Fish and Game has permission to access.

Contact the IDFG regional office for more information (208) 799-5010.

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