bighorn sheep

Melodie Edwards

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.

Billings Gazette

Tuesday, the Wyoming house passed two bills that would lay out a strategy for keeping domestic sheep and bighorn sheep separated. Domestic sheep carry a bacteria that can spread pneumonia to bighorns, wiping out whole herds. But Wild Sheep Foundation Director Kevin Hurley has problems with the bills, especially Senate File 133, which sets aside funds to remove a herd of transplanted bighorns from the Wyoming Range    

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.

A state lawmaker wants the option to remove a small herd of bighorn sheep from U.S. Forest Service lands in southeastern Wyoming if necessary to protect local sheep ranchers.

M. Noonan

Wyoming is hoping to start vaccinating bighorn sheep for pneumonia within the next few years.

A working group dedicated to curbing the spread of sheep diseases met last week in Casper, and participants said inoculation research is yielding promising results.

Doug McWhirter, a wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, is a member of the working group. He says bighorn sheep are doing well in many parts of Wyoming but that diseases are still a big threat.

Parts of the Shoshone National Forest in northwest Wyoming are now off-limits to domestic goats, which some people use to haul gear into the backcountry.

Forest officials announced the decision for pack goats Monday and say it will remain in effect through 2013.

The purpose is to protect wild bighorn sheep. Forest officials say there is increasing evidence that domestic sheep and goats can spread disease to bighorn sheep.

The Shoshone National Forest is home to one of the largest populations of bighorn sheep in the lower 48 states.