Help Save Wild Bighorn Sheep

Your Comments Are Needed by March 3, 2009!


Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Lamb © Ken Cole

Wild bighorn sheep are native to North America, and once numbered in the millions. But their numbers have drastically declined to just a few thousand. The biggest threat wild bighorns face is disease from domestic sheep.

Most experts agree that when wild and domestic sheep come into contact while grazing on the public lands, the wild sheep get sick and often die. What’s killing bighorns, they say, is a pathogen that is carried by domestic sheep. Bighorns with this pathogen can die or transmit a pneumonia-like disease to other bighorns. Lambs are especially vulnerable. Expert biologists and wildlife agencies recommend separating bighorn sheep from domestic sheep to minimize disease risk to the wild sheep.

Faced with declining Rocky Mountain Bighorn populations in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River regions of Idaho, the Payette National Forest is taking public comment on how to protect bighorn sheep from domestic sheep. Four ranchers have commercial grazing permits for about 20,000 head of domestic sheep on nearly 500,000 acres of public land in the Payette. To protect bighorn sheep, the Payette has proposed cutting nearly 60% of the public acres grazed by domestic sheep (called Alternative 7G).
You can read the Payette’s information and proposal at

The Payette’s recommendation still leaves considerable risk of disease to bighorn populations. The best protection for wild sheep is Alternative 7E, which closes all domestic sheep grazing allotments on the Payette. Please send your comments to the Payette National Forest asking for Alternative 7E to be selected to give our wild sheep their best (and maybe last) chance to survive in the wild.

Please e-mail your comments to the U.S. Forest Service at by March 3, 2009! A sample letter is below, but please add your own thoughts or experiences about wild bighorn sheep:


Re: Bighorn Sheep Comments

I am writing to ask that you provide the maximum protection for wild bighorn sheep on the Payette National Forest. Please choose Alternative 7E, which best protects bighorn sheep from the disease risk from domestic sheep. Alternative 7E closes all domestic sheep allotments in the Payette, and thus eliminates the most risk of contact and disease transmission between domestic and wild sheep.

I understand from your analysis that less than one contact per year between bighorns and domestic sheep is recommended by experts to avoid disease being transmitted and decimating bighorn lambs and herds.

There are only 4 domestic sheep permittees who still graze sheep on the Payette, but they affect about half a million acres, much of it in historic bighorn habitat. These domestic sheep operations are taxpayer-subsidized, and limited in their contributions to the area’s economy. There are many people who enjoy watching bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon and the Main Salmon who can add millions to the local economy. Hunting bighorn sheep also generates significant revenues. The majestic wild sheep in Idaho are an irreplaceable resource for generations to come. Please provide the maximum protection to wild bighorn sheep, and close all domestic sheep allotments located on the Payette National Forest.

Sincerely, [your name and address]


  1. atlas Avatar

    I was hiking in the Wasatch mountains with my dog and I saw a young ram and it charged my dog.

  2. Ken Cole Avatar

    Here are subsidies received:

    Soulen Livestock Co received payments totaling $1,010,401 from 1995 through 2006

    Ron Shirts received payments totaling $214,707 from 1995 through 2006

    Frank Shirts Jr received payments totaling $775,817 from 1995 through 2006

    Guy M Carlson received payments totaling $110,307 from 1995 through 2006

  3. Izabela Matej Avatar
    Izabela Matej

    I hike Wasatch a lot. Where have you seen the young ram? Wonderful that you spotted one.
    I am sorry it charged your dog but dogs are not allowed in some parts of Wasatch.

  4. Izabela Matej Avatar
    Izabela Matej

    I am not against dogs. I have 3 .

  5. Virginia Avatar

    Ken – I sent my letter today to support the Bighorn Sheep. I hope it helps. Thank you for this story and the sample letter as I don’t always have the facts to write my own letter.

  6. Ken Cole Avatar

    This is what I added to the comment letter that I sent, I also added the links to the subsidies received by the permittees:

    I have spent many years working, exploring, recreating, wildlife watching, fishing on the Payette National Forest and have been lucky enough to enjoy watching bighorn sheep from the Taylor Ranch where even there they are diseased from their interaction with domestic sheep. It is incumbent on the Payette National Forest to everything in its power to ensure the persistence of bighorn sheep in Idaho and beyond. The removal of domestic sheep from all Payette Forest allotments will also reduce conflicts with predators such as wolves, cougars, bears, coyotes and other predators which I highly value. Removal of domestic sheep will also improve habitat for many other species and make valuable forage available for elk, deer, bighorn sheep and other grazers which have great value to the ecosystem and contribute to greater sustainability.

    The value of domestic sheep on public lands to the public is well below the cost of maintaining them. The operators who use these allotments, besides causing damage to the ecosystem, causing conflict with wildlife, and paying minute fees, also receive millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies at taxpayer expense. I find no reason to subsidize businesses that pay foreign laborers slave wages to work 24/7 guarding sheep from predators that are doing what is in their nature only to be killed by being gunned down from a helicopter at taxpayer expense.

    I have also had frightening experiences with guard dogs while hiking through sheep country.

    Domestic sheep no longer belong on public lands.

  7. Barb Avatar

    I really encourage people to continue to write letters and phone on issues that are important to them. It is very easy to get e-mail addresses as well of local and national media.

    People often mistakenly believe ONE letter won’t make a difference. It’s not true. And one plus one plus one plus one gets attention.

    For example, I’m sure the Idaho Governor’s office doesn’t enjoy getting phone calls and letters regarding the coyote killing contest.

  8. Ryan Avatar

    Letter written..


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole