Wild Sheep Foundation Offers Solutions to Congress to Stop Deadly Disease

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Pneumonia still greatest obstacle to wild sheep restoration

“We’re losing hundreds of wild sheep to this disease every year and it is decimating herds across the west,” said WSF Director Kyle Meintzer.

The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) recently met with members of Congress and federal wildlife agencies on solutions to create safe zones against deadly pneumonia bacteria and viruses that are infecting wild sheep herds in the U.S.

Wild sheep were infected by first contact with domestic sheep and goats during European settlement of the western part of the nation, and new infections occur when wild and domestic sheep encounter each other in the wild. Legacy infections resurface as die-offs in previously infected wild sheep herds, even without new contact with domestics.

“We’re losing hundreds of wild sheep to this disease every year and it is decimating herds across the west,” said WSF Director Kyle Meintzer. “For example, in 2013, 400 wild sheep in California were lost, and that’s 80 per cent of what was the largest herd in the state. This year, wildlife managers were forced to sacrifice the herd in the Tendoy Mountains in Montana due to recurring pneumonia and low lamb survival. Wildlife managers, with the help of hunters, will remove 100 per cent of the herd and later will repopulate the herd with healthy bighorns. Having a disease-free zone around the new herd is necessary to prevent new infection and assure the success of restoration. This persistent disease is likely the result of previous contact with domestic sheep.”

Several representatives of WSF met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., including Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (NV), Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK), John Barrasso (WY), Jon Tester (MT) and Steve Daines (MT) in late September. Staff members from Senators Mike Crapo, Jim Risch (ID) and Congressman Mike Simpson's (ID) offices also joined in the discussions.

“Senators Murkowski and Barrasso and Representative Cynthia Lummis (WY) have been pushing a results-oriented approach in the strong tradition of multiple-use on federal lands,” said Meintzner. “Sheep conservationists are grateful for the efforts of these members.”

WSF is encouraging support for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to move forward on identifying the high risk-of-contact domestic sheep grazing allotments across the west, as well as to identify alternative grazing allotments for domestic sheep where there would not be such a high risk-of-contact. Domestic sheep, which are largely immune to the bacteria and viruses but are carriers of the disease, can transmit the pneumonia to wild sheep with simple nose-to-nose contact where their grazing lands overlap.

“We also wanted Congressional and agency support in putting together collaborative meetings in each 'sheep state' where all interested stakeholders would be invited to participate to come up with the best possible solutions to minimize and/or eliminate risk of contact between wild and domestic sheep and goats,” said Meintzer.

Meintzer said there is a directive included in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation for the Department of Interior and Related Agencies, Senate Report 114-70 (http://1.usa.gov/1WkE2lw), which emphasizes the USFS to take “prompt action to seek and enact multiple-use solutions to ensure our nation does not continue to lose substantial portions of either our domestic sheep industry or our bighorn sheep conservation legacy.”

The Senate appropriation also includes a directive for the USFS to work with partners to schedule discussions with diverse stakeholders, including Federal land management agencies, domestic sheep industry representatives, grazing permittees, state wildlife management agencies, tribes, wild sheep conservation organizations and other parties interested in collaboration on strategies and solutions to address risk of disease transmission.

Congress must reach agreement on all appropriations bills by Dec. 11, 2015, when current spending policy expires, or extend the deadline.

“We are working state-by-state to meet with domestic sheep grazers, the Forest Service, and other interested parties. One of these meetings will be in Wyoming in December, and we hope to keep Utah, Nevada, and Idaho on a similar schedule,” said Meintzer. “We’d like to have decisions and agreements as soon as possible, but the key thing about these meetings is that we are pushing for a hard look at the areas of greatest risk of contact, and for all suitable and safe alternative grazing areas for domestic sheep.”


The Wild Sheep Foundation, formerly the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS,) was founded in 1977 by wild sheep conservationists and enthusiasts. WSF enhances wild sheep populations, promotes professional wildlife management, educates the public and youth on sustainable use and the conservation benefits of hunting while promoting the interests of the hunter and all stakeholders. With a membership of more than 6,000 worldwide and a Chapter and Affiliate network in North America and Europe, WSF is the premier advocate for wild sheep, other mountain wildlife, their habitat, and their conservation. Since forming in 1977, the Wild Sheep Foundation and its chapters and affiliates have raised and expended more than $100 million on conservation, education and conservation advocacy programs in North America, Europe and Asia. These and other efforts have resulted in a three-fold increase in bighorn sheep populations in North America from their historic 1950-70s lows of ~25,000 to ~80,000 today. WSF, our Chapters and Affiliates and agencies partners are also working together to ensure thinhorn sheep thrive in their northern mountain realms for generations to enjoy.


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Gray Thornton

Wild Sheep Foundation
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