Idaho Fish and Game to allow Kill Permits?

August 7, 2009 by  
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Fish & Game approves plans that include kill permits

By Eric Barker

Plans for managing wild and domestic sheep herds are certified as required by law passed last year

Idaho Fish and Game Director Cal Groen approved 11 plans Thursday aimed at keeping domestic and bighorn sheep from coming into contact with one another.

Some of the plans, known as best management practices, include kill permits that allow ranchers and sheep herders to kill bighorns if the wild sheep are seen mixing with domestic sheep. The kill permits were included so ranchers can help ensure wild bighorn sheep that come in contact with domestics do not have a chance to carry disease back to their herds and infect other wild sheep.555439813_430581100_mbr_9318_wsl-1

Jim Unsworth, deputy director of Fish and Game, said in several cases the department also has permission to kill and remove domestic sheep that wander into areas where they could come in contact with bighorns.

“We have allowed kill permits for bighorn sheep, and the opposite of that is permission is given to Fish and Game to kill domestic sheep if they are in the wrong places,” he said.

In May, a bighorn ram was seen in close proximity of domestic sheep near Riggins. Afterward the ram showed signs of pneumonia, and the department decided to kill it to prevent it from spreading disease to other bighorns. But the ram eluded the department’s efforts for about three weeks while it ran with a group of bighorn rams.

A law passed by the Idaho Legislature last winter mandated the department to seek out the agreements with all domestic sheep ranchers who run their animals in areas where they could come in contact with bighorns. According to the law, those plans were to be certified by Groen by Thursday.

Most wildlife managers and biologists believe bighorn sheep are highly susceptible to contacting pneumonia when they mix with domestic sheep that carry the disease. Cases of die-offs and chronic pneumonia have been documented in wild sheep herds throughout the West after they have had contact with domestic sheep.

Groen said the department determined 18 sheep ranchers in the state operate in areas where contact with bighorns is possible. The plans range from simple to complex, and a range of measures are outlined depending on the threat of contact on each of the allotments. Participation by the ranchers is voluntary, and Groen said four declined to work with the department to craft the plans. Another four did opt to participate but the department and ranchers have not yet been able to craft plans acceptable to both sides.

“We will move forward on the ones we are still working on and hope to get something accomplished on them,” Unsworth said. “We may or may not. This is a voluntary deal on the producers’ side. They may decide the (best management practices) we suggest are not appropriate.”

In certifying the plans, Groen said the department is saying the plans “provide for the separation that reduces the risk of disease transmission between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep to a level that is acceptable to bighorn sheep viability.”

The law, written by Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, who is also a sheep rancher, was prompted by a process on the Payette National Forest that could reduce domestic sheep grazing in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River canyon by about 60 percent. Bighorn herds in both areas have been documented with pneumonia and the Salmon River herds have declined by more than 70 percent in the past 20 years.

Officials on the forest are in the process of finalizing that plan, and in passing the law legislators hoped to influence their final decision. But the agency could decide to disregard the plans and reduce or end domestic sheep grazing in areas occupied by bighorn sheep.

Last week, Region Four of the U.S. Forest Service, which includes the Payette National Forest, added bighorn sheep to its list of sensitive species. The designation means the agency will work to preclude bighorns from advancing to threatened or endangered status under the Endangered Species Act, and all forests in the region will have to consider what effects proposed actions have on wild sheep.

Keith Lawrence, director of the Nez Perce Tribe’s wildlife department, said the sensitive species designation is both appropriate and important.

“I think the recognition says that the trends are not headed in the right direction and that it needs to change,” he said. “When you are talking about the population being 10 percent of what it historically was, I think that is a huge recognition that we are in trouble and we need to fix this.”

555439898_430581164_crw_1075_rt16-mThe tribe is opposed to the law calling for the best management practices and instead believes domestic sheep should be kept out of areas where bighorns roam.

“We have not had a chance to review the plans that have been developed. We hope that they do not advocate continued domestic sheep grazing in or adjacent to occupied bighorn sheep habitat, as it has been shown that the (best management practices) approach is ineffective when applied to occupied bighorn sheep range,” said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

Lawrence said similar plans to those envisioned by the law were in place along the Salmon River in May, when the bighorn ram came in contact with domestic sheep.

“There was still contact and after the contact the provisions in place in the (best management practices) agreement to contain the risk of disease transmission failed.”

Lawrence went on to say agreements with kill permits might well stem the spread of disease after contact occurs, but the end result is still dead bighorns.

“The root problem is you still have domestic sheep too close to bighorn sheep. If you have to have a kill permit to make separation then you are probably way too close.”

Siddoway’s Bill Threatens Idaho’s Wild Sheep!

June 4, 2009 by  
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New Legislation Threatens Bighorn Sheep
Populations Across Idaho
For Immediate Release;May 29, 2009
Lapwai, Idaho — On May 7th, legislation that dictates state policy for managing domestic-
bighorn sheep interactions was enacted. The bill was sponsored by Terreton domestic sheep
producer Senator Jeff Siddoway. A previous bill with similar language proposed by Sen.
Siddoway had been vetoed earlier in the legislative session this year. Domestic and bighorn
sheep are incompatible when occupying the same range, as domestic sheep transmit fatal disease
to bighorn sheep, causing them to die of pneumonia. However, the new law directs the
Department of Fish and Game to develop allotment management plans based on “best
management practices” (BMPs) to justify continued domestic sheep grazing within occupied
bighorn sheep range; and then requires the IDF&G Director, to certify that implementation of
BMPs will provide separation between domestic and bighorn sheep and reduce the risk of
disease transmission to acceptable levels for continued bighorn sheep viability. rocky-mountain-bighorn-sheep1

“We are disappointed this legislation went forward”, said Samuel N. Penney, Chairman for the
Nez Perce Tribe. “The Tribe advocated for the bill to be vetoed as the previous legislation had
been because we are convinced it would lead to continued bighorn sheep declines. The recently
passed bighorn sheep legislation holds domestic sheep grazing harmless, continues status quo
grazing within and in close proximity to occupied bighorn sheep range, encourages continued
bighorn sheep population declines, and precludes opportunities for bighorn sheep recovery,”
added Chairman Penney.
As called for in the new legislation, the State of Idaho and the allotment permittee have
developed allotment management plans based on BMPs for federal grazing allotments
administered by the Nez Perce National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management within the
Salmon River canyon. Despite implementation of BMPs, on May 19th, twelve days after the new
legislation went into effect, the permittee for these allotments reported a bighorn ram in close
proximity to his domestic sheep. An investigation by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game
confirmed the presence of a sick bighorn sheep showing clinical signs of pneumonia that was
suspected to have contracted disease through contact with domestic sheep. The IDFG has
decided to remove the ram to confirm cause of illness and hopefully reduce the risk of this ram
spreading disease through the bighorn sheep population. Removal efforts have, so far, been
unsuccessful and ongoing monitoring indicates the ram has interacted with other bighorn rams in
the area, potentially spreading disease to other bighorn sheep. “This unfortunate incident is a
living example of the ineffectiveness of BMPs, and a clear message of the devastating
consequences of implementing this flawed legislation,” said Mr. Baptiste, Vice Chairman for the
Nez Perce Tribe. “We are hopeful this incident will not result in a disease outbreak, but at this
point all we can do is sit back and hope for the best,” concluded Mr. Baptiste.big-sheep-glacier-picture
“Although we will not know for sure until the sick ram can be collected and tested, if this ram
has pneumonia, this fits the classic pattern of comingling between domestic and bighorn sheep”
said Keith Lawrence, Wildlife Management Director for the Nez Perce Tribe. “The fact that the
ram was already showing signs of illness when first observed suggests to us that the initial
contact must have occurred sometime prior to this sighting and was undetected,” added Mr.
Lawrence. “Monitoring efforts during May, have documented straying of unattended domestic
sheep into areas close to bighorn sheep,” added Mr. Lawrence. “The demonstrated inability to
detect contact, control straying domestic sheep, and removing bighorns that may be infected, are
all indications of the ineffectiveness of BMPs to provide separation and reduce the risk of
contact and disease transmission,” concluded Mr. Lawrence.
“It is unfortunate we are placed in the position of having to kill bighorns to save them. This is
not a sustainable strategy for recovery or even persistence, but can only lead to the eventual
extirpation of these magnificent animals,” said Chairman Penney. “Clearly, by relying on
ineffective BMPs, this new legislation will fail to protect bighorn sheep and is an obstacle to our
efforts to recover bighorn sheep; a culturally significant species to the Nez Perce Tribe and an
iconic species to wildlife enthusiasts across Idaho,” concluded Chairman Penney.
The Nez Perce Tribe is opposed to the new law because its prescription is not based in science.
“BMPs have not been proven effective,” explained Mr. Baptiste. “It is not possible to measure
the effectiveness of management tools that are not based upon scientific principles or research,
and past experience by other state and federal agencies have shown BMPs to be ineffective at
maintaining separation or reducing the risk of disease transmission,” added Mr. Baptiste. “We fear this new law insures continued risk of contact between these two species resulting in a
continued threat of fatal disease outbreaks in bighorn sheep populations. In addition, this flawed
legislation will result in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game having to exercise their policy
of outright killing of bighorn sheep that come into contact with domestic sheep when BMPs fail
to provide separation,” concluded Mr. Baptiste.
The Nez Perce Tribe is actively working with federal agencies to restore bighorn sheep
populations within a reach of the Main Salmon River upstream from Riggins, Idaho. Salmon
River bighorn sheep are the last remaining native populations of bighorn sheep in Idaho and
population numbers have declined to remnant levels over the past decades and the Nez Perce
Tribe would view it as a tragedy to see them disappear and is working to avoid such an event.