Deadly illness continues to spread among Washington bighorn sheep

Preemptive killing didn’t stop the outbreak.

After wildlife officials killed many bighorn sheep last winter, in the Yakima River Canyon, to prevent the spread of deadly pneumonia, the outbreak continues to kill most of the newborn lambs.

Deadly illness spreading among bighorn sheep .

Seattle Times



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  1. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    I was fly fishing in the Canyon a couple of weeks ago and talked to a couple of guides in the fly shop there about the bighorns. They come down the canyon to the river more often late summer because their water sources dwindle up top and several people have reported hearing coughing coming from animals on the west side close down to the river. No one had heard anything from the herd on the east side. I think there are two herds on the west side and one on the east side.

    At one point they tried to move one herd from one side of the river to the other and supposedly it took only a day or two for the entire herd to recross back to their old stomping grounds, so it’s not surprising that the animals from both sides are infected.

    It’s depressing that the cough is getting the animals in the canyon. I’ve fished that area off and on for more than 20 years and it has always been such a pleasure to view the bighorns.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Daniel Berg,

      It seems to me that I saw a photo on Google Earth/Panoramio of domestic sheep in the canyon.

      1. Daniel Berg Avatar
        Daniel Berg

        I’ve never personally seen domestics within the Canyon itself, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happens. It’s pretty easy to see where possible corridors of exposure are. The linked articles are good examples………The north side of 410 where the first article points out bighorns being seen is very close to the south end of the canyon. If there is a grazing allotment that close to the north side of Highway 410, then domestics were well within 5 miles of the south end of the canyon.

        I’m sure the grazing allotments to the west of the canyon and around the Wenas are fairly close as well, but couldn’t confirm it without digging in.

  2. Virginia Avatar

    This last weekend my husband and I camped and hiked near Kirwin which is upriver from Meeteetse, WY and is the abandoned gold/silver mine they tried to resurrect years ago (ranchers and others in the area hired a hot shot lawyer and got the mine shut down – great victory for a beautiful place).

    We spotted 12 bighorn ewes and lambs and two rams (small) across from the trail. We are so very lucky that there are no domestic sheep in this area and fortunately it is also too rugged for cows up there, even though we see them grazing all over the forest in the area. The sheep hunters were all over the place, but no legal rams to be seen (again, I say fortunately.) I only add this because there are sheep still in the West that are not being exposed to the deadly virus the domestic sheep carry.

  3. Drew Avatar

    By now the etiology should have been identified. Has anyone heard the results?


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