As bighorn sheep populations waver across the West due to disease, sheep advocates and wildlife agencies are working to come up with solutions to keep wild sheep populations steady and, in some cases, recover. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) recently proposed relocating bighorn sheep to Utah’s Mineral Mountains – a proposal that has been met with mixed results.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, woolgrowers think it’s a bad idea because bighorn sheep are notorious for roaming beyond their predetermined range. This could result in displaced grazing allotments to keep bighorn sheep safe since interaction with domestic sheep has been linked to the spread of bacterial pneumonia within wild herds, resulting in massive die-offs in multiple states.
“There are a lot of unknowns out there, and the [domestic] sheep are getting blamed for [other] die-offs,” grower Matt Mickel, who has sheep about 10 miles west of the Mineral range, told the Salt Lake Tribune. ”I don’t see any advantage to putting [bighorns] there. I don’t see a scenario I would be comfortable with.”
However, UDWR promises to keep the relocated bighorn sheep under control, even resorting to killing free-roaming wild sheep if they wander too close to their domestic counterparts. While that isn’t the best scenario, it is one of the few ways to keep the two types of sheep apart.
“We will kill any wild sheep that crosses the Beaver River,” said UDWR Executive Director Mike Styler. “Any time we have wild sheep anywhere close, we kill them if they wander where they shouldn’t be. We abhor that, and that’s why we won’t even look at a place [for bighorn sheep relocation] that is near domestic sheep.”
Hunters and wildlife advocates are in support of the proposal, pointing out that more bighorn sheep equal a successful recovery of the species within Utah. It would also mean more opportunity to hunt this once-in-a-lifetime animal.
The wildlife board will consider the proposal this week. Stay tuned to GOHUNT for further details.