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For bighorn sheep who make their home in the mountains running through Idaho and Montana, transmission of diseases from domestic sheep are a deadly problem.
Pneumonia can be passed to bighorns from domestic sheep and goats, and the outcome can be deadly to entire populations. In fact, over the last 25 years, bighorn sheep populations in Idaho have declined by nearly 50%.
Right now, bighorn sheep are at risk to disease transmission from grazing domestic sheep at a U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility in Idaho.
The Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, located near the Montana border in Idaho, conducts research in the middle of a crucial wildlife migration corridor. Unfortunately, domestic sheep from the experimental station graze on lands that are also vital habitat for bighorn.
If bighorn sheep contract pneumonia at the experiment station from domestic sheep, an outbreak would exact a heavy toll on bighorn herds, with mortality commonly running 50 percent or more — sometimes reaching 100 percent of a herd.
Department of Agriculture officials have called for closure of the Sheep Experiment Station for budgetary reasons. They say the research can be conducted more effectively in an area that is less remote and closer to a university. Conservationists have also called for closure of the station for more than a decade, because of concerns involving not only bighorn sheep, but grizzly bears and wolves as well.
The Department of Agriculture’s recommendation to close the Experimental Sheep Station has been at least temporarily rebuffed by a budget committee of the U.S. Congress, at the urging of the Idaho Congressional delegation. But the Department of Agriculture has now asked for public comment and if there is sufficient support, may still move forward on closure of the station.
It’s important that wildlife advocates send a clear message to stop the practice of grazing domestic sheep in core bighorn sheep habitat!
The preceding text was a press release email from the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. Their petition/email campaign is currently approaching 40,000 participants. Please consider participating and contacting the US Department of Agriculture by clicking this link.
Photo Credit: By Kjaergaard (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0]
via Wikimedia Commons