Idaho: 'The battle between wild and domestic sheep has only just begun'

The Times-News has a story highlighting some history concerning bighorn sheep in southern Idaho.

Hunting for history: The return of the southern Idaho bighorn sheep
By Ron Yates

Stories concerning bighorn sheep have focused on the majestic animals’ past. But recent reports of developments concerning their management, reported in real time, have prompted positive results for bighorn management in the state of Idaho. Thanks are due Ralph for the light. With this in mind, I include some ulterior context below the fold:

Of Big Cottonwood Creek

These bighorn are referenced in the article so an update is due :

Seventy-four bighorn sheep were introduced into unit 54 between 1986 and 1990, with poor results. Only 15 are believed still to be alive.

These sheep have been struggling to persist in Big Cottonwood Creek on the Sawtooth National Forest’s Cassia Division for some time. Keep in mind, it is important that bighorns are given more space than the within one mile of domestic sheep that has been documented in this area – that formal request has been made of FS. The best science insists on 9 miles to prevent the spread of deadly pneumonia from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep.

Idaho Politics

The article also mentions the political controversy of the re-introduction of bighorn:

The Idaho Wool Growers Association opposed the re-introduction of wild sheep onto Jim Sage Mountain. The IWA argument stated: Wool growers are increasingly threatened with loss of grazing rights when sheep ranchers receive blame for disease appearing in wild sheep, thus deeded grazing rights are being systematically stripped from the sheep industry.

Indeed, the IWA has reason to worry about the persistence of bighorn. The industry is faced with another wild and majestic animal that forces a confrontation between the incompatibility of domestic sheep grazing with vibrant wildlife values on public lands in the arid West – and the legal questions are being answered in favor of wildlife protection.

In the case of Nez Perce National Forest’s Allison-Berg allotment, of bighorn that inhabit the Salmon River canyon, IWA encouraged the individual producer to fight in court to prevent the removal of domestic sheep. The resulting case brought to bare photographs of a bird perched upon a bighorn’s nose as evidence that other species might be spreading the disease. Not quite – even as nice as the photos might be. The judge ordered the sheep off of the allotment citing the widespread scientific acknowledgment that domestic sheep are deadly to bighorn. Wildlife conservationists successfully win a trend setting case for bighorn.

Update: ‘ghost grizzly’ was kind enough to pass along this link concerning bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon falling victim to disease this year :

Bighorn: Immunization may be hard in canyon
Adult sheep were spared, offering some hope but leaving experts scrambling to help

The Oregonian Staff

Comments following further down the thread shed light on this development, and similar observations concerning the prevalence of wayward domestic sheep in this area have been documented. 

“In fact, for IWA the battle between wild and domestic sheep has only just begun.”

Legal victories in favor of bighorn prompted rumors of high level Idaho meetings aimed at rearranging state management to reaffirm domestic sheep predominance in state management. Talk revolved around ideas of shifting management from the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, whose mission is informed by the following:

[Wildlife] shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated, and managed. It shall be only captured or taken at such times or places, under such conditions, or by such means, or in such manner, as will preserve, protect, and perpetuate such wildlife, and provide for the citizens of this state and, as by law permitted to others, continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.

to an alternative Idaho agency, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, whose management as described in its Strategic Plan for 2007 (pdf) is guided on behalf of a slightly different interest:

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has an ever-important place in one of the state’s largest industry sectors. We recognize Idaho’s economic well-being is forever tied to the health of its farming and ranching. We also recognize new opportunities exist that will redefine the future of agriculture in Idaho. As agriculture changes, ensuring efficient and superior service delivery will be the department’s foremost priority. The pledge has been made to optimize the value of principles our farmers and ranchers have framed over the past century.

We know how Western state agricultural agencies percieve wildlife that allegedly conflict with livestock production. That story is as conspicuous as the differing management directives found in these statements. Livestock predominance over wildlife – codified.

Under the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the means could be more easily employed to ensure distance between bighorn and domestic sheep via an alternative to retirement of domestic sheep allotments. Those means include the write up of arbitrary boundaries surrounding domestic sheep that if crossed by bighorns trigger orders to destroy offending bighorn. The fulcrum shifts from protecting bighorn from domestic sheep, which by any standard of the imagination are more valuable to the state than domestic sheep, to protecting domestic sheep from bighorn.

Whether these arrangements spread throughout the state is still a festering question.

Rumor of the gathering of state officials with Livestock interests were vindicated with this press release issued by the IDFG. Suggestion has been made that the light cast on this behind-closed-doors meeting has forestalled the change-up of management for the time being. Now, meetings are to be held in public working groups.

Tomorrow, the first meeting open to the public is to be held in Boise.



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  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Thanks for this discussion. With bighorn sheep, we have another argument for getting cows and domestic sheep off our public lands.


  2. ghost grizzly Avatar
    ghost grizzly

    Here is a link to an article that ran in the Sunday Oregonian about sheep in Hells Canyon.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for the link to Oregonian. I didn’t know that there had been a die-off of bighorn lambs in Hells Canyon despite the successful lawsuits keeping domestic sheep out of bighorn range on the Idaho side of the canyon last summer.

  4. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I was in Hells Canyon last spring and the local conservation officer was looking for some domestic sheep that had been observed in the canyon. IDFG found and shot the sheep, but the damage had been done and the die off is the result.

    I was told today at the Bighorn-Domestic sheep meeting, that one of the sheep ranchers present at the meeting owned the sheep, but would not take responsibility for their removal. He denied owning them, but they had his ear tags atached to their ears when they were killed. I will try to find out more on this matter and pass along any info that comes my way.

  5. kt Avatar

    Yes, and I would like clarification on the following: At the bighorn sheep meeting today, comments were made that THREE HUNDRED Shirts Brothers domestic sheeeeep had been killed by wolves. Anyone heard anything about that?

  6. Brian Ertz Avatar

    there was also a stray domestic lamb mid august along the main salmon, north side at ruby rapids. less than a week earlier , 4 bighorn – 3 rams 1 ewe, were documented on the north side of the salmon across from the mouth of partridge creek.

    these domestic sheep are all over the place …

    anyone harboring any pretext that state or federal “proper” management, without the outright swift removal of domestic sheep, is going to protect bighorn are deluding themselves.

  7. kt Avatar

    You know, this whole Butch Otter and Idaho Woolgrower effort to promote the cause of a tiny, tiny hand full of subsidized “Woolgrowers” at the expense of wild bighorn sheep herds is just so absurd.

    It’s pathetic to listen to state employees have to bleat about Idaho’s “sovereignty” – as part of the justification for why ButchCo is wading into the waters of denying the science related to domestic sheep disease transmission to bighorns. And in explaining why Butch is trying to insert Idaho “sovereignty” into management of public lands.

    I am all for sovereignty. Let Butch secede from the Union – and forego all use of federal tax dollars and subsidies inside the borders of the Gem state. We’ll see how long that lasts. Many Children Left Behind. Mammoth Potholes in the Freeway. No PILT payments ….

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar

    yes – they insisted that 300 shirts brothers domestic sheep were lost to wolves — more like 300 domestic sheep were lost to the “loose” herding as described by FS’s AOI for that allotment. if it don’t wander back – musta been lost to wolves right ? 300 domestic sheep wandering into bighorn country — at that point, the wolves are the only last sterilization left.

    following the meeting, we’re looking at the very real possibility that the state may be planning to destroy more bighorn to keep their domestic sheep out there.

  9. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Hmmmmm. Arbitrary boundaries that if the bighorn crosses it gets “whacked”? I smell am ever so familiar stench.
    I really think it is possible that if the bison issue is taken care of properly, {free ranging in natural migration boundaries, etc.}, it will set the tone of how other
    “livestock conflicts” with wildlife will be resolved. After the bison it is all downhill, a natural progression.

  10. Concerned Avatar

    Sounds amazingly similar to the conflict in Montana over Bison on public lands, if you want to range animals, do it without conflict with wild animals, which should always take precedent over domesticated animals on public lands, the wishes of the public should always be heeded….as I have stated, for over 15 years now, the conflict over Bison in Montana, has nothing to do with illness, and it has 100% to do with land control, same ole’ crap that has happened for over 150 years now, it started with getting rid of the native peoples and continues into the 21st century to get rid of wildlife, I for one am damn tired of the livestock industry running rough shod over the wishes of the people…if your afraid of your livestock getting ill, then do what is needed to ensure they stay healthy as well as allowing the indigenous species to stay healthy and have room to roam! Public lands belong to the public…period, no exceptions, the publics wishes should be followed.

  11. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Concerned, i see you picked up on the correlation. This issue with the bison absolutely enrages me. I happened upon some info that led me to study about land issues as related to the bison.{and other wildlife too}. I found some very interesting info about Montana i was not familiar with but something folks here may know quite a bit. There is a state law that “allows 60 percent of landowners in a region to petition their county to set up a planning and zoning district to keep out unwanted development/use, even over the objections of a minority of landowners.. In Bozeman pass area, a critical wildlife corridor, landowners in 2002 invited the Sonoran Institute to help in this process. The announced aim of their effort:’ ”To establish a permanent zoning district in the Bozeman Pass that protects the rural character ….. the natural values of the of the area and builds citizen leadership in county growth and management efforts’ “. A minority of landowners isn’t much of an issue when surrounded by public land and wildlife.
    If the state of Montana only provides 1 percent of the nations beef, what percent of livestock inside the geographical boundaries that Ralph posted, contributes to that 1 percent? Would the state generate more revenue if bison are allowed to move around in those boundaries, eventually leading to an annual bison hunt? What and how much of a difference would increase the economies of West Yellowstone and Gardiner? Depending on the timing of a bison hunt it could extend the stays of hunters who have made a habit of elk hunting outside the park.
    The same could be said for the bighorn if also allowed to reproduce and inhabit public lands. I would also expect an increase in the ever growing number of “wildlife watchers”.
    Aside from the limits of mountain winters, cold temps, and pass closures, {the pass west of Jackson and Sylvan pass}, year round visiters may also increase. There does not seem to be any reason that would keep everyone from benefiting in some way. Maybe even reinstating a few rangers….

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    D. Bailey Hill,

    I appreciated your rhetorical question, so I’ll answer it. Zero per cent of the nation’s beef is produced inside the zone I put on the map.

    Therefore, the only excuse the stockgrower associations have against letting bison in, is disease from the bison which will be transmitted to ??

    Interesting how the same disease is used the opposite way in Wyoming and to keep feeding elk so the stockgrowers won’t be inconvenienced.

    And we are now bringing to the attention of the public how the diseased domestic sheep are used to keep bighorn populations down to remnant numbers and to prevent their restoration.

    Could some of the lousy herding of sheep by some outfits be a form of biological warfare against healthy wildlife?

  13. Concerned Avatar

    D. Bailey Hill,

    I am very familiar with the land control issues concerning Bison, that is a cause I have been involved in for over 12 years now..But I find it ironic that the state of Idaho would try the same tactics, concerning all the press that the Bison issue gets and has got for many years now, same issue, different as usual when it comes to controlling land, by bullet, or BS, they are not going to give their strangle hold up on the publics resources!

  14. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    One of the things the woolgrowers were insisting on in the sheep meeting, was that they be “held harmless” in conflicts with Bighorns. We need more clarification . If lax herding allows domestic sheep to get into places like Hells Canyon and cause a die-off of Bighorns, shouldn’t the sheep rancher be required to pay for damages?

    I was concerned by the lack of comment from the IDFG people on protecting the Bighorns. They seemed to casting themselves as moderators in the conflict between the woolgrowers and Bighorns rather than as advocates of wildlife as they should be.
    I would also like more information on where the Dubois Sheep Experiment Station graze their sheep. Those are government sheep grazing on public lands and we should all have a say in where they are allowed to go.

  15. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    Larry – no one at IDFG who wants to keep their career is going to say anything that might offend a rancher or politician. May we all live long enough to see this change. But it’s been this way for so long I can’t remember any other way.

  16. Chuck Avatar

    I think we as people who enjoy nature in the way it was and should be, we should insist that all cattle, sheep and any other domestic animal no longer be allowed to graze on public land. Ranchers can care a less about the damage their way of life is causing.

  17. kt Avatar

    Larry mentioned the sheep grazing at the south end of the Lemhis and Lost River Range. Anyone who drives the Arco-Howe-Birch Creek Junction road can see just how beat out that country gets from sheep grazing. In winters, that sure seems like it would be a place where bighorns and domestic sheep come in contact. And if I recall – domestic sheep bands wander all over the place out there – including into places on INEEL where they aren’t supposed to go. There was a news article about some such incident a couple of years ago.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There used to be bighorn in Uncle Ike Creek in the Lemhis near Howe. I even got a photo of a herd of them and wrote about it in Hiking Idaho . . . go hiking there and you will “probably see bighorn.”

    Now do I understand that domestic sheep have killed them off?

  19. Maska Avatar

    Re: Larry Thorngren’s comment–
    “I was concerned by the lack of comment from the IDFG people on protecting the Bighorns. They seemed to casting themselves as moderators in the conflict between the woolgrowers and Bighorns rather than as advocates of wildlife as they should be.”

    This is precisely the role the members of the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee for the Mexican wolf have been playing in the Southwest. The chair of the committee, Terry Johnson, of AZGFD has explicitly and publicly stated as much on more than one occasion. Outreach materials have been watered down to reflect this “neutral” viewpoint. These wolves are among the most critically endangered mammals on the planet. If the federal and state agencies won’t advocate for them, why on earth would we imagine that these captive agencies would advocate for any wildlife?

  20. Resource User Avatar
    Resource User

    This is a bigger issue than you all can even imagine. Fighting and pointing fingers and everyone and anyone is not productive in the process. Science is not solid on this case. The pnumonia is present in many other animals, birds, elk and pasturella is present in many other forms and animals. Everyone needs to remove their “feelings” and get down to solving the problem of suitable habitat. BHS used to roam over 2/3rd’s of Idaho. Where has all that habitat gone. Homes are being built on the Snake River south of Lewiston on both sides of the Snake and now homes will be smack dab in the middle of prime wintyer BHS habitat. Where are you guys on that issue. No where! Who’s “fault” is it if a young BHS ram wanders off into the hinter lands and stumbles on a domestic sheep and the disease is allegedly triggered in the BHS and he wanders back to his herd and spreads the pasteurella to the whole herd? Who’s fault is it? Gotta be the Domestic sheep that was 75 miles from the herd, if there were no domestic sheep on the planet this would not happen. Reality check! where are all your east coast buddies who do eat lamb, a very healthy low fat meat and polular on the east coast going to get their lamb meat? Australaia or New Zealand. We grow the best lamb meat in the wworld right here in the USA and Idaho. How can we all come to the table and fix this is the question. Are you willing to come to the table? Are you willing to risk the public looking at all of you as abstruction and money driven? Hope not. Men for centuries have sat down and talked it out, worked it out, figured it out with out the black robes involved. Move forward, stagnation is paralysis. TALK! THINK. DO!

  21. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Resource User, as far as I’m concerned, private livestock grazing should be ENDED on AMERICA’S public lands. Period. End of story.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  22. Brian Ertz Avatar

    How can we all come to the table and fix this is the question. Are you willing to come to the table? Are you willing to risk the public looking at all of you as abstruction and money driven? Hope not. Men for centuries have sat down and talked it out, worked it out, figured it out with out the black robes involved. Move forward, stagnation is paralysis. TALK! THINK. DO!

    concerned user — have you sat down at the table ?? if so, let me know your name, so i can associate it with a face — for you see i have been at the table, and watched the good-faithed efforts at compromise spited — instead, you will hear the announcement of a BHS slaughter zone surrounding domestic sheep…

  23. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Would someone be so kind as to describe to me what the sheep are eating in those areas? Is it grass in areas that get plenty of rain, or arid/semi-arid and little rain, etc.?
    And yes, this is a serious question.

  24. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    In Wyoming, our G&F Department has also fallen into the “neutrality” syndrome of not advocating for wildlife. In the old days, whenever some industry, usually the ranchers, wanted to do something harmful to wildlife, G&F would call up the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the WWF would mobilize hunters and anglers to defend G&F. It worked a lot of times.

    Not any more. The Stockgrowers got tired of losing sometimes and so through the Legislature, it took complete control of G&F. I’ve discussed this elsewhere, so I won’t go into the details again.

    But what has happened is that G&F advocates for nothing, except when the Stockgrowers wants it too. It means that G&F now considers landowners and the livestock industry to be its primary clients. That is certainly the case with elk feedgrounds, wolf and grizzly management, and bighorn sheep conservation.


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Brian Ertz