Vaccine is no Silver Bullet for Big Horn Sheep

The much touted vaccine that the woolgrowers have been promoting as a way to make bighorn and domestic sheep compatible is not even close to ready. While bighorn sheep are dying in Montana and Nevada, and while the herds in Hell’s Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon are suffering the long lasting effects of previous epidemics which have caused extremely high rates of mortality for lambs, the woolgrowers are getting a special gift from Congressman Mike Simpson in the form of a five year moratorium against any BLM or USFS policy that could reduce their grazing privileges on public lands.

Surely, this will result in more dead bighorn sheep. Populations such as the central Idaho population in the Salmon River Canyon have suffered from years of low recruitment so their population is still declining. At the rate this population is declining, 5 years is too long and there are more domestic sheep allotments that threaten this herd. Something needs to be done now.

But will 5 years be long enough to develop a vaccine strategy? Not according to a letter the Wild Sheep Foundation received from one of the leading researchers working on a vaccine. Dr. Subramaniam Srikumaran, a researcher working at Washington State University, says that a vaccine that would be practical for use in wild sheep wouldn’t be ready for at least 10-15 years. Dr. Srikumaran has developed a vaccine but it takes four injections before the sheep develops the immunity they need and, so far, it has only been tested on four sheep. It is totally impractical to think that all wild sheep could be vaccinated, let alone injected. Besides, it shouldn’t be the wildlife that pays for the diseases that private industry wants to place in the bighorn’s habitat.

I do take issue with one of the sentiments expressed in the WSF post. I don’t think that collaboration would lead to anything other than more delay in implementing the solution that will be sure to work. Move domestic sheep out of bighorn sheep habitat. Now, not five, ten, or fifteen years from now.

Vaccine is no Silver Bullet for Big Horn Sheep
Wild Sheep Foundation


  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    After observing the Idaho Woolgrowers as a member of the Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Working Group, I am sure this is just another attempt to stall by the Woolgrowers. They are only interested in maintaining their cushy deal with almost free grazing and federal subsidies for lamb meat and wool. They would shoot the Bighorns just like they do the Wolves if they could get away with it.


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