Another Die-Off! Idaho’s Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep Update
By Jordan Breshears
Well, just about the time we start to celebrate a momentous and victorious effort after IDFG discovered Movi in this area 2 years ago and had a seemingly successful recovery effort. The ugly side of nature comes back and takes a bite out of our hopeful reality. Hell’s Canyon area in Idaho (as well as Washington and Oregon) has been a longtime Bighorn Sheep hunting destination. This region has held the biggest rams in some of the most beautiful country a person can behold. If there is a dream sheep hunt outside of Montana this is the area most of us would look at. So naturally, when bad news came a couple years back, it shook the outdoorsmen and women a bit. We never want to hear about sheep dying off under any circumstances, but it takes extra air out of the sails when it’s the top region for the state to boot. Shortly after the news broke Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation as well as IDFG biologists gathered data and placed an enormous effort towards halting the disease and slowing the outbreak. This appeared to be highly effective. The “capture, test, remove” program was a success. Spring lambs survived and there was little negative effect over the next couple of seasons. However, just as a breath of relief was about to be felt. We see another outbreak of pneumonia in this region. The tough part is knowing how much damage will be done between now and spring. And what does the next effort to help look like?
Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae otherwise known as Movi, has been known to biologist at least by name since 1972. I have been writing about it since my start in 2010 and not a lot has changed in regards to how lethal it is and the anxious unknowns that take place over winter and spring many adult sheep die and as the lamb crop is born and either some survive or worst case they all die-off completely. Many adult sheep die, but often a remnant will contract the disease and live as hosts. Then when the ewes give birth to their lambs, the babies simply cannot build immunity fast enough and succumb to the Movi. Rough stuff right!? Perhaps you saw my recent blog about the efforts to capture and collar sheep in the Salmon reason. (if not you can read it here), but to reference back to that region. IDFG has known of Movi in those herds since the late 1980s. The area still holds solid sheep numbers yet never seems to get “ahead” due to the lingering effects of the pneumonia. So, starting tomorrow the Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation and IDFG will capture, test and remove through the greater Salmon area. This is a similar effort as described took place in the Hell’s Canyon herds. Date will be collected, sick sheep will be removed and further surveys will take place to validate success and understand more about what happens next.
Back to Hell’s Cayon…what’s next? The answer is simple yet unsatisfying. We wait! For now the winter will allow the pneumonia to take it’s course and spring/early summer will tell the results. Meanwhile, IDFG biologists have a tough decision to make. As we are currently in the second year of the two year regulation cycle. Typically license quotas would not change unless something substantial happens. Well, this fits that bill. If I had to guess, we will see a conservative restriction placed on the tag quotas for this region at a MINIMUM…And other than that, our efforts are best given to support the organizations like the Idaho Wild Sheep and the Wild Sheep Foundations. As well as general education of these circumstances. Who knows…perhaps the right person reads this or shares this and a functional vaccine is produced because of it? Why not? Plato’s Republic says “our need will be the real creator” Which is now often stated “Necessity is mother of invention”. I will keep you in the loop as news comes in. Hopefully it’s better news next time. Be blessed and good luck in the draws!