Montana launches new bighorn sheep study

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This summer, Montana will launch a new study that incorporates eight herds of bighorn sheep and domestic sheep to understand how the animals mingle. Researchers will focus on “bighorn herd size, migratory status, domestic sheep herd size and domestic husbandry practices,” according to the Independent Record.

“We want to understand how often they interact,” said Justin Gude, Research and Technical Service Section chief for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP). “It’s in the best interest of domestic sheep growers and wild sheep.”

Prior studies have identified the spread of pneumonia from domestic sheep to their wild counterparts, but this commingling study will hopefully allow researchers to “elucidate useful patterns that lead to experimental introduction of management practices to reduce commingling rates,” said Kurt Alt, conservation director for the Montana Wild Sheep Foundation (MWSF).

“The previous data is pointing us toward conserving existing herds, expanding bighorn distribution and minimizing comingling and the risk of spreading pathogens.”

Researchers have targeted herds in the Tendoy, Highland, Greenhorn, Cabinet and Little Belt mountain ranges and other wild sheep in the northern Madison Range.

The study, which is one of three bighorn sheep studies, will cost about $8 million and is a cooperative effort between the Montana Woolgrowers Association, MWSF, the Wild Sheep Foundation, Montana State University Animal & Range Science and MFWP’s wild sheep and goat working group. Other studies include one that focuses on the spread of pneumonia in the Highland Mountains near Butte and another that uses MFWP’s adaptive management model to make predictions that would decrease bighorn sheep predation, such as increasing mountain lion harvests, according to the Independent Record.

Funding for the project comes from MWFP’s annual bighorn sheep tag auction with additional matching funds from Pittman-Robertson Act dollars.


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