In an effort to strengthen Bighorn Sheep herds in the Seminoe-Ferris Mountains near Rawlins, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has relocated 24 sheep from Devils Canyon. Transplants from Oregon in 2009 and 2010 and from Devils Canyon near Lovell in 2010 helped establish the Seminoe-Ferris Herd, but blizzards and years of wildfires reduced the herd. Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist Gregg Hiatt joined Bob Beck to explain that the previous transplant has been a success, but they want to build on that.
14 years ago, the state’s bighorn sheep herds were dying from pneumonia that was thought to have been contracted from grazing domestic sheep. Since then, the state has worked with wildlife advocates and ranchers on the so-called Wyoming Plan which designates areas for each species. Last year, the Legislature passed bills formally adopting the Wyoming Plan in hopes of keeping domestic sheep from spreading pneumonia to wild sheep.
When it comes to the spread of disease from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, it’s not that different from the arrival of Europeans in the Americas when small pox and other diseases killed millions of indigenous people. Without a built-in immunity, pneumonia can wipe out an entire bighorn sheep herd in no time. And that’s why, last week, the Wyoming legislature passed a pair of historic bills that will effectively keep the two species apart.
When Rancher Frank Robbins had his cattle leases revoked a few years back, he decided to run sheep on his property instead. But now his animals are trespassing into the habitat of the state’s largest bighorn sheep herd, exposing them to pneumonia which is deadly in bighorns. Advocates on both sides say that while Robbins may be using the situation to pressure the Bureau of Land Management to return his cattle leases, the agency is also at fault. Kevin Hurley is director of the Wild Sheep Foundation.