Spread of Bighorn Sheep Pneumonia Continues

Domestic sheep spread deadly disease to wild bighorn sheep

It’s been a bad year for bighorn sheep in Montana.

Spread of Bighorn Sheep Pneumonia ContinuesNew West

While we see an increasing amount of media attention that bighorns are dying of disease, unfortunately, with this article, there is a familiar omission of context regarding a likely source of disease for bighorns in general; namely, domestic sheep.

This is worth pointing out over and over again, as it has significant policy implications.

Earlier, Ken Cole put together a comprehensive illustration of a WAFWA report that summarizes bighorn outbreaks this past year.  It’s worth looking at.


  1. JimT Avatar

    Brian, can you expand your comment about policy implications?

  2. Brian Ertz Avatar

    woolgrowers, and their policy-maker surrogates, have been working overtime to build a firewall on the general inertia that we’ve been seeing given the development of the Payette Decision and the litigation that’s brought that about ~ managers all over the west have been claiming they intend to rely on that decision for guidance ~ so it’s a precedent setting decision – a determinative decision.

    the woolgrowers, and their surrogate governor of Idaho, put together a working group/policy-making process in the state of Idaho ~ and have leveraged threat of egregious state legislation and otherwise manipulated that process in an effort to influence the outcome of said state policy with respect to bighorn/domestic sheep management ~ again, presumably with the intention of erecting some kind of artificial regulatory state firewall (rather than a federally enforced separation between the animals) to influence the Payette Decision & mitigate damage to their private interest across the west. the dominoes are teetering.

    One of the chief tactics of the woolgrowers to achieve this end has been to use the forum of the state, given their relative supremacy of influence, to mire the conversation in obfuscatory denial of science and domestic sheep culpability in harboring disease and with an insistence on capitulation and political prostration to the almighty custom & culture of the sheepmen. lick the boot.

    during one of the initial working groups, a ground rule was established that “disease” as a topic, was off the table ~ so we were all to sit there and pretend.

    the bottom line is domestic sheep spread disease to bighorn and the grazing of domestic sheep on federal lands is a significant land-use decision that imperils bighorns. by denying, or omitting, that dangerous relationship – public awareness regarding the actual problem that needs remedy is diminished and that veil/omission is felt by decision-makers.

  3. Bryanto Avatar

    Can someone explain to me the market for domestic sheep and why we need to graze them on public land? I don’t see a real demand for mutton in the U.S.,and the demand for wool should be going down because of synthetic fabrics,so why do we economically need to overgraze public land, and endanger our wildlife because of domestic sheep? Are we exporting the wool and meat over seas? Can our domestic need for wool and mutton not be met by sheep being keep on fenced private land,away from Bighorns, and native predators?

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      Because the woolgrowers say so 😉

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      All of these subsidies and externalization of costs allowed the public lands sheep industry is to allow a handful of people to retain their lifestyle and political position

      When you, your friends, or family are laid off for business reasons, it is important to think of how unequally the benefits and burdens of the economy are dished out.

    3. Bryanto Avatar

      Al least with cattle I can see a cause and effect relationship. Americans love their hamburgers and steak, and so raising cattle is big business. So really the blame sits with the american public and their choice of food,that is in turn making them over weight and have cardiac diseases. But with sheep, I just don’t see the demand for the numbers of animals I see on the range. My only guess is over seas markets. Obviously they aren’t important to the rural communities since they mostly employ Peruvians who make next to nothing. It just doesn’t seem to have any logic behind it. So we,the american public,are forced to keep subsidizing an industry that is completely obsolete?

  4. Layton Avatar

    “I just don’t see the demand for the numbers of animals I see on the range. My only guess is over seas markets.”

    From just a little bit of perusing on the Internet, it looks to me like the exports of sheep from the US are the old “cull” ewes. OTOH we import many pounds of lamb/mutton from Australia and New Zealand every year.

    On the surface it seems to me that producing lambs for local consumption might be a pretty good deal.

  5. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    I believe the US military is still a big customer for domestic wool–dress uniforms, blankets, socks, etc. Of course, WWI pretty much saved the woolgrowers from extinction early in the 20th century.

    It’s definitely way past time for sheep to get off public lands, both from the perspective of saving damage to wildlife and taxpayers. No doubt the wetter east/midwest could grow all the lambs/sheep “needed” in this country.

  6. Bryanto Avatar

    “in the late 20th century wool prices began to fall dramatically as the result of the popularity and cheap prices for synthetic fabrics. For many sheep owners, the cost of shearing is greater than the possible profit from the fleece, making subsisting on wool production alone practically impossible without farm subsidies.”….. “Sheep production peaked in North America during 1940s and 50s at more than 55 million head.Henceforth and continuing today, the number of sheep in North America has steadily declined with wool prices and the lessening American demand for sheep meat.”….. “countries such as the U.S. consume only a pound or less (under 0.5 kg), with Americans eating 50 pounds (22 kg) of pork and 65 pounds (29 kg) of beef. In addition, such countries rarely eat mutton, and may favor the more expensive cuts of lamb: mostly lamb chops and leg of lamb.” Wikipedia. Seems to me to be a dying life style, welfare for an exclusive elite.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Interesting how a group that provides relatively small economic benefits hangs on in political power.

      It is certainly not evidence in favor of those who think economics determines politics.


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Brian Ertz