Is SB1175 a way to stall so that “research” can be done?

Bighorn Sheep Lamb © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep Lamb © Ken Cole

More bighorn ‘the Earth is flat’ madness :

Otter must decide bighorn issue by Saturday – Rocky Barker – Letters from the West, Idaho Statesman

What he and other sheep ranchers really want is more research to determine not only if disease is spread from domestic sheep to wild sheep, which they dispute, but also how the bighorn are dying and if there are ways of stopping the deaths and allowing the bighorns to thrive and grow without forcing the ranchers off of federal lands. They see the bill as giving them time, though an opinion presented by the Idaho Attorney General’s office suggested the bill won’t change the state’s legal position.

Unfortunately, the post does little more than push sheepman talking points, failing to mention that there is very little controversy about the spread of disease from domestic sheep to wild sheep – and the subsequent death of bighorns – in the scientific community, or that the single pumped up (thanks to articles like this) voice of controversy that does exist comes from the President of the Woolgrowers Association.  So we’ll fill in a few of the gaps.

1. The Science

Let’s face it, domestic sheep diseases KILL bighorn sheep. You can read about this here:

A Review of Disease Related Conflicts Between Domestic Sheep and Goats and Bighorn Sheep

You may also read the abstract for an article in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases:
George, J.L.; Martin, D.J.; Lukacs, P.M.; Miller, M.W. In press. Epidemic Pasteurellosis in a bighorn sheep population coinciding with the appearance of a domestic sheep.

WAFWA Wild Sheep Report

You can also see a video segment on the issue here: Oregon Field Guide: Bighorn Pneumonia

And many more …

2. The Source(s)

I was told by Stan Boyd, lobbyist for the Idaho Woolgrowers, that his group has approached Senator Crapo for $900,000 to fund 3 years of Washington State University and University of Idaho research into what is killing bighorn sheep. The problem is that one of the primary scientists who does research at the University of Idaho, Caine Veterinary Teaching Center, in Caldwell is the President the Idaho Woolgrowers Association. Marie Bulgin has repeatedly testified that there is no evidence that domestic sheep diseases kill bighorn sheep in the wild. There is significant disagreement with this assertion as can be seen in this “Letter from David A. Jessup, CA Dept. of Fish and Game to Pattie Souchek, Forest Planner, Payette National Forest re Disease Transmission Between Domestic and Bighorn Sheep (July 31, 2006)

The money has not been appropriated yet, but if it is, will any of it go to the University of Idaho, Caine Veterinary Teaching Center under the supervision of Marie Bulgin?

Another question that comes to mind, couldn’t that $900,000 be better spent on keeping the woolgrowers who will be affected by changes in USFS policy whole? It’s not as if they don’t receive subsidization as it is.

3. Follow the Money

Here are subsidies received by wool growers affected by the likely changes on the Payette National Forest:

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

Also, I am sure groups such as Western Watersheds Project would be willing to “collaborate” so long as the best science and research describing how bighorn sheep are dying is utilized and fundamentally informs whatever product a “collaborative” might come up with. There is plenty of evidence showing how domestic sheep herding on public lands impacts the habitat and health of bighorn sheep – it should not be abandoned nor the waters “muddied” by tax-payer subsidized industry sponsored science – remember how well the tobacco or oil industry scientists serve the public interest ? – it is no different here.

In the meantime bighorn sheep will continue to die if nothing is done to remove domestic sheep from allotments where they may intermingle with bighorn sheep. Also, there has been little discussion about domestic sheep that remain unaccounted for at the end of the grazing season. There have been instances where domestic sheep that have been separated from the larger herd have been left to fend for themselves in places like Hells Canyon. As you can see from these exchanges, between the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the US Forest Service, there have been domestic sheep found wandering unsupervised in Hells Canyon – bighorn habitat.

Even if transmission of disease from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep requires direct contact between the two, there is ample opportunity for this to occur when domestic sheep are left to wander in bighorn sheep habitat.

Rocky’s reporting in this article seems irresponsible in that he repeats talking points of the sheep industry without any investigation into their claims.  We need better investigated information for policy makers and the public.  The claims of the sheep industry have been soundly repudiated by scientists, land and wildlife managers, and judges.

About The Author

Ken Cole

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. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

12 Responses to Otter must decide bighorn issue by Saturday

  1. kt says:

    So they want $900,000 more tax dollars??? On top of the Direct subsidies you listed. Then there are the indirect tax payer subsidies – Wildlife Services scorched earth killing of predators so the ranchers can be lazy, not have enough herders, run sheep on top ow wolf dens, etc. The weed spray costs on BLM and Forest lands. The OTHER reduced wildlife populations. The sediment and sheep poop and the trampled streambanks reducing fishing and recreational opportunities.

    Then there are the lost and diminished stream flows killing headwater streams. What is the value of the water on Forest Service lands that is being lost or polluted by the 15 intermarried sheep families in Idaho?

    Speaking of lost and polluted waters: My understanding is that Butch Otter’s Second in Idaho Cowboy Command, Butch-appointed Lt. Gov. Brad Little, had sold his domestic sheep permits in the Boise Foothills to one of the folks in the subsidy list you have above.

    A few days ago, a friend went for a bike ride up Hulls Gulch, and encountered the stench and damage from those welfare sheep. Sheep owned by one of the sheep ranchers whose domestic sheep grazing in Hells Canyon has been making bighorns die.

  2. kt says:

    AND KEN: These bighorn sheep lamb photos are just getting cuter and cuter … This one looks staged, for goodness sake!

  3. Debra K says:

    I recently returned from an extended trip to the East Coast, where I gave some presentations on public lands livestock production. This bighorn sheep/domestic sheep controversy generated a lot of interest, but I didn’t feel that I could adequately explain the State of Idaho’s apparent direction to exterminate its native and transplanted bighorns.

    Probably because it defies logic to protect these few private producers that are destroying public resources on the public dole to produce domestic sheep worth maybe $100 at market, while sacrificing the majestic bighorn sheep. Seeing bighorn in the wild is an unforgettable thrill for wildlife watchers, and economically, they are incredibly valuable, with a Hells Canyon bighorn tag having recently been auctioned for $180,000.

    I am hoping that if this bill becomes law, the tribes, especially the Nez Perce, will seek to exercise their treaty rights for harvest and cultural practices relating to the bighorn. That could have some major implications for state management of wildlife.

  4. Debra K,

    I think it’s hard to explain to people the degree to which a large part of Idaho politics is a pre-democratic, feudal system.

    Studies of Idaho politics are not common. States like New York, Illinois, Arkansas, Florida are interesting to more people, but think it would be good piece of scholarship to have such a study. Practically speaking, a feature article in a magazine like Rolling Stone, however, would do more good.

    At one time there was an Idaho Journal of Political Science, but it folded after a few years.

  5. JB says:


    The journals Society & Natural Resources and Human Dimensions of Wildlife both take articles on political issues related to NR management. Maybe we could talk you into coming out of retirement?


  6. jimbob says:

    By looking at the research I’m satisfied that Domestic sheep pass on diseases to Bighorns and I’m no genius. If you are going to dispute science, shouldn’t you have some science to back it up? The ranchers and politicians shouldn’t be able to just say “Nuh-uh” and go on with business as usual, jeopardizing public property like Bighorn sheep.

    Ironically, here in Arizona as I was on my way home from work, I just saw a herd of domestic sheep being driven right through Bighorn habitat. Our Bighorn numbers are extremely low. So low that our Game and Fish have established additional unlimited cougar hunts in Bighorn habitat, blaming the predators for the low numbers. Our politicians cave to these interests, too.

  7. Ken Cole says:

    Hey jimbob,

    Where were the sheep?

  8. jimbob,

    Western Watersheds Project has an Arizona office.

  9. jimbob says:

    Ken, if you mean the domestic sheep, they were being driven to summer range along Highway 87 just north of the town of Fountain Hills on the east side of the highway. This is right at the edge of Bighorn territory, I’ve even seen Bighorns (big males) in this particular spot and around here.
    Thanks, Ralph. I should contact them to see if this is an ongoing concern. I was on their e-mail list, but haven’t gotten anything lately.

  10. Ken Cole says:


    Here is the link to the Arizona office of WWP

  11. Ron Kearns says:

    Mr. Ken Cole

    I began working professionally with desert bighorn sheep in 1978 and avocationally years before then. Your bighorn photos are exquisite. I took many photos of desert bighorn during summer waterhole counts and spring lamb and fall helicopter surveys, although mine were USFWS copyright and nowhere near the quality of yours—I am most certain that the lesser quality must have resulted from the Government Issue (GI) standard cameras I used and surely not from my lack of comparable photographic expertise!

    I commend you for posting your informative articles—laced with photographic reminders of wildlife at risk—within this exceptionally informative and fast-moving blog covering many critical issues that help develop an informed, knowledgeable public essential to ensuring the proper, transparent, and accountable agency management of this large spread known hereabouts as ‘The Maughan Ranch’.

    Ron Kearns
    Retired Kofa NWR Wildlife Biologist, USFWS
    Former Federal Collateral Duty Refuge Law Enforcement Officer, USFWS

  12. Ken Cole says:

    Thank you Ron,

    I’m running out of bighorn photos that I haven’t used but I hope to get some new photos soon.

    Hopefully I can get some in a couple of weeks. I have been fortunate over the years to get so many wildlife photo’s and I only did it for fun. I am very happy that I now have a use for them.



‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey