Wyoming bighorns in decline.

Wyoming bighorns in decline. Casper Star Tribune. By Chris Merrill

The primary cause is domestic sheep. If you want bighorns, you can’t have sheep in the area or even travelling through it.





  1. Ryan Avatar

    This is so sad, so much work has gone into bringing wild sheep back to the west and resablishing them. Only to have it runied so because of irresponsible land management.

  2. Barb Avatar

    Try to keep livestock on traditional wildlife habitat is, for the most part, in conflict with nature’s laws.

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The same thing will happen to Bighorns in Idaho with the Otter dominated IDFG. I went to lots of meetings as a member of the Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep working Group, but the recommendations that came out of our meetings were mostly those proposed by the Idaho Woolgrowers and their lobbyist. Input from wildlife watchers and photographers was ignored. The IDFG was too intimidated by the governor to suggest anything he or his woolgrower buddies might disagree with.

  4. MP Avatar

    The Idaho Woolgrowers Association has their own lobbyist. Thanks for making us aware of that. I just thought the public lands sheep ranchers were going directly to Idaho’s U.S. Congressman to get their way. Now I am getting a clearer picture of the incredible sway the public lands sheep ranchers have. It is not just wildlife like the bighorn sheep that are suffering. Soils, watersheds, riparian vegetation, streambanks, fisheries, and the plants of the range are being impacted by sheep grazing. A band of sheep=1000 sheep. A thousand sheep are driven down to streams and creeks to water them, which severely impacts the riparian streambank vegetation and the streambank stability of creeks and streams. I have protested to the public land agencies about this practice of driving sheep down to streams to water them and asked them to put an end to it. I have encouraged sheep ponds be used instead to water them. My requests and concerns have been ignored.

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar


    let’s not forget about the water quality issues associated with the practice of grazing sheep – and cattle for that matter.

    There’s shit in the water.

    The Woolgrower’s lobbyist is also the lobbyist for the canned-elk industry in Idaho.

    protests to public lands agencies concerning disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep is ongoing. Larry Thorngren cites the absurd Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Working Group’s outrageous interim policy for which Stan Boyd – the Woolgrower lobbyist in mention – used the threat of legislative remedy (i.e. the speculation that state legislation was held over the governor & IDFG’s head that it would have transferred management of Idaho’s bighorn to the State Dept. of Ag – an unabashed livestock grazing proponent… Or would have taken egregious legislative action against bighorns in some other way.

    I too attended the “Working Group” for which public comment and the public interest was completely ignored. You remember Larry how one of the “ground rules” was that we not discuss “disease” in the “Working Group” – Someone fill me in about how one can rationally develope state policy concerning the interaction between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep and not mention disease ? This is the Livestock Shadow under which wildlife conservationists, wildlife watchers, wildlife managers, public lands managers and those interested in the public interest must work with – and the result is disastrous for wildlife and the systems upon which wildlife depend.

    The fact of the matter is that everyone knows domestic sheep disease is the problem — and from every document that I’ve read – meeting minutes, memos, letters, etc. – concerning the federal land agencies’ responsibility to respond to the needs of bighorn survival — welfare (public land) sheep ranchers and their sympathetic land managers are looking for a change of pants all over the west. The federal agencies have a legal obligation that their domestic sheep leases not endanger bighorn survival, that responsibility doesn’t end regardless of how Stan Boyd browbeats Butch and IDFG into political subservience – and the legal responsibility won’t end in Nevada, Montana, Utah, California, etc either.

  6. Layton Avatar


    You might know the answer to this if you’ve worked on bighorn studies in the past — a few years back there was a severe outbreak of the lung disease in Hell’s Canyon — they captured a bunch of bighorns and put them in a facility at (I think) Parma to study them and maybe try to develop some sort of a vaccine. But I never heard what happened to them. Do you know??

  7. Buffaloed Avatar

    Layton, to my understanding, most of them died.

  8. Buffaloed Avatar

    Rocky Barker posted this yesterday. Apparently the Draft EIS for bighorn sheep protection on the Payette Forest is due out soon.


  9. Layton Avatar

    “Layton, to my understanding, most of them died”

    Were they able to make any progress toward a vaccine, or to learn anything more about what is actually different about the bighorns and the domestics that makes the bighorns die from the same disease?

    Or, I guess a bigger question is, were they able to PROVE that the domestics are the carriers?? Yes, I know that’s what ALL the evidence points to, and I’m not even disputing it, just curious and there doesn’t seem to be any info that’s easy to get ahold of.

  10. Brian Ertz Avatar


    a lot of the claims coming from the livestock industry mention that it is not the pneumonia alone that results in death, but that it is a combination of disease that overwhelms the immunity of bighorn and results in the deaths. this was one unsuccessful claim made by the defendants when Western Watersheds Project successfully litigated FS’s domestic sheep allotment (/trailing) in Hell’s Canyon. Ultimately, in my view the Livestock interests are throwing a lot of ideas about the disease around in an attempt to ‘muddy the waters’ and obfuscate the connection between domestics and wild sheep.

    to my knowledge, there is no significant advancement toward a vaccine though I do know that a lot of work toward that aim is being invested in.

    the question concerning whether they were able to “PROVE” that domestics are “the” carriers is another argument that Livestock has made. I guess that depends on what one would consider constitutes “proof”. The WAFWA has determined that the connection exists to the point of recommending that the connection inform management decisions and that recommendation has garnered the validation of federal law (Judge Winmill’s decision in Hell’s Canyon). When we talk about “proof” about anything it is an extremely difficult thing, especially when speaking to a biologist/scientist – that’s just how science works. When we ask “Can you prove that domestics are ‘THE’ carriers ?” that infers that in order for a Fish & Game/Wildlife department or FS to take action the standard be that there are no other carriers, another argument made during the Hells Canyon case (i.e. pictures of magpies stooped on a bighorn nose were used as “evidence” that “maybe” other carriers infected the herd). That standard of “PROOF” that domestics are “the” carrier before taking management action would leave a lot of bighorn dead. But management and policy is different. We do know that domestics are carriers. The preponderance of evidence, the ‘best available science’ indicates that the connection exists – that the pneumonia kills bighorn in significant numbers when exposed to domestic sheep – and that the pneumonia can stay with the herds for a long long time – so, federal action that permits domestic sheep to graze on federal allotments in conflict with bighorn sheep – especially native bighorns – is unlawful.

    Think of it this way Layton – the science demonstrating a connection between domestic sheep infecting bighorn sheep is a hell of a lot better than the suggestion that wolves significantly reduce elk herds’ numbers.

    Here is the WAFWA Wild Sheep Report (pdf) if you’re interested Layton.

  11. Anthony Avatar

    I just got back today from a hunting trip near lost valley reservoir in the payette national forest. What an environmental disaster to the riparian habitats from cattle overgrazing. There was almost no vegetaion along lost creek above and below the dam and the other creeks in the area. The reservoir looked like a sewer. The sign at the reservoir said there was controlled grazing, but where? There were so many cow droppings at the campsites you could not even enjoy yourself. Why would the forest service allow this to happen? are they not worried about lawsuits?

    Just a hunter trying to enjoy the outdoors,

  12. Layton Avatar

    Brian said;

    “Think of it this way Layton – the science demonstrating a connection between domestic sheep infecting bighorn sheep is a hell of a lot better than the suggestion that wolves significantly reduce elk herds’ numbers. ”

    Layton sez’

    “OUCH” 8)

  13. JB Avatar

    From the WAFWA report: “Practical solutions will be difficult if not impossible to achieve until there is widespread acknowledgment that the risk of disease transmission from domestic sheep and goats to wild sheep is real. We recognize that reaching this goal is likely to require additional scientific evidence. Recognition by stakeholders that all parties benefit when this disease risk is actively managed is also critical.”

    It doesn’t matter how much scientific evidence accumulates; livestock producers aren’t arguing because of the science (or lack thereof). Rather, they are arguing because their bottom line is affected and exploiting weaknesses in the science is an effective means of accomplishing their political objective (no restrictions on grazing domestic sheep). This is the same strategy used by those who don’t “believe” in global warming. Obfuscate, object, and deny–sow the seeds of doubt in order to maintain the status quo and cash flow.


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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