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New Mexico plans to eliminate 50 more bighorn sheep


New Mexico Bighorn Sheep
Photo credit: Dreamstime

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has announced the removal of more bighorn sheep in an effort to keep disease away from wild herds. The hunt targets bighorn sheep in the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, New Mexico. Officials say that the wild herd has become too large and by eliminating at least 50 they hope to keep contact with disease-carrying domestic livestock at bay.

As goHUNT previously reported, in January, NMDGF was forced to lethally remove a total of eight bighorn sheep from the Rio Grande Gorge herd because of their proximity to their domestic counterpart. Because domestic sheep are known carriers of bacterial pneumonia, which can decimate wild bighorn sheep herds, the removal in January was proactive in an effort to keep the herd healthy. That same reason is the rationale behind this recent decision.

However, several animal rights groups have spoken out against NMDGF’s decision, suggesting that rather than kill bighorn sheep, the real solution is moving the domestic sheep out of the wild sheep’s range.

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“If the domestic sheep remain in such close proximity to wild bighorn habitat, so will the risk of a pneumonia-related die-off in the bighorn herd,” said Melissa Cain, the Bighorn Habitat Campaign Coordinator for Western Watersheds Project, in a press release. “The Bureau of Land Management should instead address these risks by removing domestic sheep from bighorn sheep habitat.”

“It sounds crazy when you say it out loud: We’re killing bighorns to save them,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians in a press release. “Instead, we should be looking the root of the problem: people who raise livestock on our public lands for their own personal gain. The Rio Grande Gorge herd is iconic, and people travel from far and wide to view it. Now we’re killing over 10% of this herd so a few people can continue to profit by raising livestock on lands that belong to us all. We’ve really got to get our priorities better aligned with the natural world.”

The Rio Grande Gorge bighorn sheep herd has thrived since 2005 when Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were relocated to the area. In 2007, additional bighorn sheep were relocated from the Pecos Mountains. The relocation efforts were successful and, now, the herd numbers about 280, according to New Mexico Wildlife.

New Mexico will offer a Rio Grande Gorge bighorn sheep hunt for the 2018 season. It will run Aug. 15, 2018, to Jan. 19, 2019. Only four licenses will be available – the first time since 2015.


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Ben L. - posted 1 year ago on 03-17-2018 11:06:54 pm

This issue is complex. Very similar to the Bundy standoff in Nevada. The ranchers have a right to use public land just as hunters do. Now we are in a situation where some government officials are deciding what is “best.” Difficult to say what is more important. As a hunter and a farmer I see both sides as having claim to what should be done. Would love to see the wild sheep popoulation grow and thrive but without taking grazing rights from hard working ranchers. P.s. I have seen bacterial pneumonia first hand with domestic sheep and it wiped out the entire flock. Very lethal.

Benton L. - posted 1 year ago on 03-15-2018 03:21:11 pm

Seth D: big horn sheep have actually been part of the land management for tens of thousands of years. Number used to be in the millions. Current populations have been decimated to the thousands by disease from livestock over the last 200 years. Sounds to me like we have a problem with domestic sheep management. Not Bighorn sheep overpopulation.

Melissa C. - posted 1 year ago on 03-15-2018 11:11:00 am

Seth D: The pathogens that cause pneumonia do not persist in the environment. They don't survive in soils or on vegetation, in water, or any other abiotic system. Removing domestic sheep and goats from this historic bighorn sheep habitat would prevent disease in the bighorn herd. Removing a few bighorns but leaving domestics in place will only prolong the inevitable - we'll see a die-off in the herd, followed by 3-25 years of suppressed recruitment, just as we see in Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Montana...

SETH D. - posted 1 year ago on 03-15-2018 01:36:23 am
Sunny New Mexico

Domestic sheep have actually been part of the land management scene for over 100 years. The idea that the state would stock sheep close to an area holding domestic sheep is stupid. A lot of these stupid ideas originated with Wild Sheep Foundation and the state level wild sheep foundations to push for "more sheep on the mountain".

Livestock leases in the west have been going on since the late 1800s. Pneumonia and Scrapie can exist in the soil for decades and remain viable.

I agree issue 50 tags and make money off of it. Or heli-capture the herd and move them to a facility where they can be health checked.

Dru B. - posted 1 year ago on 03-14-2018 10:02:34 am
The Woodlands, TX

This probably the 1st time I've ever agreed with the stance of an "Environmental Group". I'm not a sheep hunter, but I would love to be. I'm sure the issue is extrememly complex, but I have always wondered the same thing? So much is poured into protecting these fragile wild sheep, but mostly we are protecting them the dangers of interaction from domestic sheep. It looks so simple to me. Stop putting the domestic sheep in that environment. Problem solved. Again, I'm sure there is a lot more at work here that I don't understand. What is the other side of the argument? Is it just a money thing? Do states get huge amounts of revenue off of the grazing rights for domestic sheep? I'd truly like to understand this much better.

Benton L. - posted 1 year ago on 03-13-2018 09:16:31 pm

Wow this is news. An environmental group actually is pro something other than carnivore.

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Casey A. - posted 1 year ago on 03-13-2018 07:14:22 pm
Port orange Florida

It’s my understanding that the bacteria pneumonia can live in ground for years, so not as simple removing the livestock once they have been there. They should do a raffle separate from the normal draw

Andrew S. - posted 1 year ago on 03-13-2018 10:27:45 am

Texas has been trying to re-establish it's bighorn sheep population in the trans-pecos area for over half a century. I'm sure they'd put some transplants to good use down there instead of "eliminating" them.

Nicholas G. - posted 1 year ago on 03-13-2018 10:24:47 am
Crookston MN

They should relocate them or have a hunt draw hunt for them. Should have the same effect while allowing someone to harvest a sheep.

Frank P. - posted 1 year ago on 03-13-2018 09:18:44 am
Newark OH

If they are sure they have to reduce the herd, They should provide a 1 time draw for those 50 head. figure out the appropriate ram to ewe’s and create the extra revenue. This year only provide 50 extra opportunities.

Jay S. - posted 1 year ago on 03-13-2018 07:56:21 am
gillette, wy

Hey stupid, do your test and move the sheep, start a new herd in another location