Battle over bighorns: State seeks solutions to domestic vs. wild sheep conflict

Here is another story on effort by the woolgrowers to take over and divert bighorn sheep management in Idaho. It is on the front page of the Magic Valley Times News today.

I’d judge the article to be just fair in its accuracy.

Battle over bighorns. State seeks solutions to domestic vs. wild sheep conflict. By Matt Christensen. Times-News writer.

I think the science on domestic sheep infecting bighorns is conclusive. Every step of the process is not known, but then neither is it known for the malarial infection of humans. Nevertheless, everyone knows the mosquito is the vector. Sheep are the vector for the pneumonia bighorn get after contact with them.



  1. kt Avatar

    You sure are right, Ralph. It is shameful, and yet one more piece of evidence that Butch Otter’s Idaho can not manage ANYTHING based on science. Not wolves. Not Bighorn sheep. IN both cases, the State Of Idaho’s “Plan” is basically to establish ERADICATION zones for both species. – wherever they may discomfort the livestock industry (a cabal of Butch Otter’s ranching cronies).

    The Woolgrower’s want everyone to believe there is a great mystery about this all. Any “new science” is just that there are multiple microbes that are at work. The end result, for bighorns, is always the same: They dies from contact with disease-carrying domestic sheep.

    The citizens of Idaho (and surrounding states and any one thinking of vacationing in Idaho) should be alarmed that disease issues in Idaho are being purposefully underplayed and even denied by Caine Vet Lab (ID, U of I) Marie Bulgen – whose sole activity seems to be trying to find ways to deny science. She is also deeply conflicted – and has been a Woolgrower OFFICER.

    This Flat Earth treatment of diseases in Butch Otter’s Idaho is really scary. But the message is clear: The public lands welfare ranchers get to kill (or have government kill) all in their path – both wolves and bighorns. How’s that for a sense of “entitlement”?

  2. Brian Ertz Avatar

    the sheepman are trying to muddy the waters similar as is done with global warming. it is an uncontested fact that when you put domestics and bighorn together in captivity – the bighorn die.

    the shameful approach taken by the woolgrowers and the state is dangerous for bighorn and dangerous for Idaho citizens who care about the state’s obligation to uphold the public trust. sportsmen, hunters, wildlife watchers, and conservationists alike are being sidelined.

    they can move every mountain in this state politically – ask that the sheepman make a thousand unenforceable promises to secure separation – but the results will be no different.

    the sheepman are paying immigrants less than $1000 per month for 24 hour a day, 7 day a week herding – the immigrants are not being properly trained and even the most (so called) progressive sheepman tout on the radio their neglect of their herders and the herders’ “complete ignorance of events beyond [the] campsite” leaving them to the rocks in this instance as fire approached. Many of the sheepman blame wolves for domestic sheep dispersing, but continue to refuse to employ the very predator friendly (sic) ranching techniques that would keep domestic sheep from straying – nor any other techniques which would require them to exercise any remnant of responsibility over their animals – they resent the suggestion. instead, they’ll rely on these herders to spot bighorn (somehow they’re supposed to have an eye on miles and miles of perimeter surrounding these allotments) and call in for the state to destroy bighorn when they’ve been spotted.

    we know that if domestics come up short on count, they’ve just assumed it’s wolves – and domestics have been found months after stock was supposed to come off smack dab in bighorn habitat.

    this neglect and sense of entitlement is killing wolves, bighorn, mule deer habitat, wildlife habitat in general –

    it’s time to end livestock grazing on public lands in this country.

  3. kt Avatar

    Maybe we could get some friendly Congress people to put an embargo on any federal subsidy payments to Idaho Woolgrowers that demand bighorn sheep be removed from public lands so their domestic maggots can have free rein … That would crimp the style of just about every Sheepman in Idaho I have searched for on the EWG Website … No more Wool and Mutton subsidies – on top of the virtually free public lands grazing and despoilation. Or maybe an embargo on some of the many federal handouts Idaho gets – if Butch Otter carries through on the Bighorn Sheep Eradication Zones.

  4. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    KT – whoa. It’s not the fault of the sheep that they graze on public lands. Call humans what you will, but calling sheep “maggots” is a cheap shot. As a youngster, I raised a small flock of sheep and can attest that they have intelligence, personalities, care deeply for their off-spring, and can be as near and dear to one’s heart — given the chance — as our dogs.

  5. kt Avatar

    Sorry Lynne, but they are range maggots to me.

  6. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    KT – I wish you could have known “Betsy Buttons”, one of my ewes, and her off spring to come for the next 12 years. Maybe you would be less hardened. Probably not. My sheep were a joy to raise and we had plenty of grass for them to graze upon. I learned about kindness and caring, about diseases and birth, and most of all how sheep are so vulnerable to predators. I learned how to keep my sheep safe from predators (namely coyotes and dogs) starting at age 10, and it did not involve killing. I knew and know still sheepmen who are good people. Separate the chaff from the grain.

  7. JB Avatar

    What do you people have against maggots!? I think they’re getting a rotten deal in this comparison! 😉

  8. kt Avatar

    If you want to read some of what a federal court has said about all this, go to:

    SEE the Nez Perce Allison-Berg Court Decision posted at:

    “there is a preponderance of
    evidence, taken collectively from a wide variety of observations that indicates
    significant risk of disease transmission from domestic sheep and goats to wild
    sheep exists.”

    This is how science works. Meanwhile, off in la-la land, Butch Otter, Marie Bulgin, Stan Boyd are wasting everybody’s time sticking up for a tiny cabal of Woolgrower political cronies – and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars trying to defy science.

    There is no mystery. It’s raw blatant cronyism -now headed in the direction of establishing Bighorn sheep eradication zones.

    JB- I do apologize to the maggot anti-defamation league …


  9. Catbestland Avatar

    Perhaps a boycott of Idaho-grown wool is in order. If they are struggling as the article indicates, it might not take much for the public to convince them that their domestic sheep are a unacceptable threat to the public’s wild bighorn population.

  10. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    One of the ways to solve the problem is to end the payments to wool growers for wool and lamb meat subsidies. The subsidies were halted for a while and then reinstated. The subsidies started in World War I to produce wool for military uniforms. The military doesn’t use wool for uniforms today.
    Subsidies for wool in Idaho range from $87,680.00 to Frank Shirts Jr., $76,849.00 to Siddoway Sheep, and $20,368.00 to the Univ. of Idaho for py 2003-2005.
    ( See: for a list of Idaho Wool Subsidy recipients.)

    If the woolgrowers didn’t get subsidies, paid a market rate for grazing on public lands and paid their help a living wage, the problem would go away. There wouldn’t be any sheep on public lands.

  11. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    Cat – wool is not the reason Idaho ranchers raise sheep. The demand for lamb is not going away. Americans like it and will continue to eat it whether we do or not.

    KT – I first heard about the conflicts between domestic sheep and bighorns when I was a kid growing up on a ranch in eastern Oregon at a time when you were still in diapers.

    Since coming to Central Idaho’s mountains 27 years ago, I’ve watched the bighorn herd in the White Clouds decline to a handful. There are no sheep allotments in Bighorn Basin or Railroad Ridge. There are small bands of farm sheep near Challis.

    The point I’m trying to make and it’s obviously not getting across, is that name calling and labeling doesn’t resolve problems, rather it drives Idahoans further apart. And doesn’t help bighorns.

    Sheep are not maggots. Just as the gray wolves that Ron Gillett dislikes as much as you apparently hate sheep, are not giant killing machines brought in from Canada to wipe out Idaho elk herds and “destroy family businesses”.

    Those of us in the conservation field, work on tough issues. Taking out frustration by attacking an animal – in this case sheep – that has no way to speak for itself, not has any control over what its human owners do, is pathetic.

  12. Buffaloed Avatar


    Bighorn Sheep Tag Auction Brings Record Bid

    The winning bid in an annual auction for an Idaho Special Bighorn Sheep permit set a record this year.

    Frank Miles of Cecil Lake, British Columbia, bid $65,000 for the tag in the auction Friday, February 8, at the annual convention of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep in Salt Lake City.

    That’s the most paid for an Idaho bighorn sheep permit that did not allow hunting in Hells Canyon.

    The highly-valued Hells Canyon hunt is rotated each year between the auction tag sold at the national convention and the lottery tag sold by the sheep foundation’s Idaho chapter.

    The record for an auction tag is $180,000 in 2005 when a Hells Canyon permit was up for bid.

    Idaho’s auction tag is sold along with others from western states and Canadian provinces at the annual Foundation for North American Wild Sheep convention.

    Two Idaho tags are approved each year by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to raise money for bighorn programs.

    The auction and lottery permits raise money for sheep research and management. Since their inception, these permits have raised nearly $2 million for bighorn sheep management.

    The bids are “a clear example of hunters supporting bighorn sheep conservation and management,” bighorn program manager Dale Toweill said. “This benefits all Idahoans, whether they hunt or not. These funds, raised by sportsmen, help ensure that Idaho’s bighorn sheep prosper now and in the future.”

  13. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I think you’re quibbling here. What you’re saying about sheep is also true of cattle; they’re just animals being grossly misused and mismanaged by their owners. It doesn’t change the fact that their presence in the West has done is continuing to do extraordinary damage to land and wildlife.

    It is of course, the people–actually, the industry as a whole–that is the problem. The livestock industry, in the infancy of the western territories and then states, manipulated political and economic institutions to benefit themselves and prevent “interference” from citizens or other interest groups. The industry, in Aristolelian terms, is an oligarchy–it created the rules for a few, against the interests of the many.

    Now, when those of us of ecological bent, or different values regarding land and wildlife, attempt to make necessary changes, we find ourselves and even our lives threatened and attacked in various ways for our temerity of expecting citizenship, justice, reason, and science to have some bearing on land and wildlife policy in the West.

    The livestock industry, through its despicable political, social, and environmental behavior, which is of historical record and is displayed nearly every day now, has proven itself, and continues to prove itself, unworthy of consideration in a democratic society.

    I think it makes little difference that every bighorn sheep herd in trouble in the west is not in contact with domestic sheep. The Whiskey Mountain herd, my local herd, hasn’t been in contact with domestic sheep for decades (the cattlemen ran the sheepgrowers out, but that’s another story), but is in deep trouble, primarily because the locals insist on having the “largest sheep herd in the country” even though the habitat of these sheep is poor–poor soils, primarily, and thus lack the physical stamina to deal with extreme environmental conditions.

    Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse the determination of Wyoming’s sheep industry to gain control over wild sheep herds throughout the state, preventing their reintroduction into former habitat where they would compete with domestic sheep for range. Wyoming set up a domestic sheep/wild sheep “council” well before Idaho did, and its sole purpose is to keep wild sheep out of former habitat; the council works to control the actions of the Wyoming G&F Department, the biologists of whom want to get wild sheep spread out into different areas of the state. We also have a so-called “wildlife-livestock disease partnership,” which uses the disease issue to do the same thing: extend control over control G&F management of wildlife.

    The existence of the elk feedgrounds is the best example of the degree of control the livestock industry exerts over G&F and wildlife management.

    I don’t see that the livestock industry is worth perserving.

    I grew up in tobacco farming, and we all know that tobacco is one of the most dangerous agricultural products grown in this country. I have no real fond memories of tobacco farming; what I well remember was the extent of the land over which I could roam and learn the natural history of where I grew up. But I’m not going to defend tobacco farming, even though it was a means of livelihood for my family and many other families. It’s a dangerous product and should not be grown or sold.

    I think we should think of livestock–sheep and cattle–in the same way. The product itself may not be dangerous, but the way it is produced is.



Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan