Montana -(Ammoland.com)- Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks removed two young bighorn rams found commingling with domestic sheep last week.
The bighorns were 28 miles south of Malta, well away from their normal habitat. The meat was donated to local families, and the horns will be used for educational purposes.
The two rams were found on private land along Beaver Creek in southern Phillips County. They were 22 miles from established populations in hunting district 622 in the Missouri River Breaks, and 25 miles from populations in the Little Rockies in hunting district 620. Neighbors alerted FWP about the rams after observing them in close proximity to domestic sheep, including within an enclosed pen. With landowner permission to access the property, FWP’s Malta area Wildlife Biologist Scott Thompson removed the bighorns on June 24.
“Bighorn sheep are managed pretty intensively,” said Thompson. “To keep a healthy population of bighorn sheep, more aggressive management may be used at times. Sometimes, that can mean removing bighorns that pose a health risk to the rest of the population.”
Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases in wild sheep are known to sometimes be transmitted by bacteria carried and tolerated by domestic sheep. There are currently no domestic sheep near established bighorn sheep populations in Region 6. “It is not out of the question for young rams to wander outside their typical habitat, as they did here, and come in contact with domestic sheep,” Thompson said. “This scenario is more likely when bighorn sheep populations are at higher levels, as is currently the case with some Missouri Breaks bighorn sheep herds.”
Last May, the Fish & Wildlife Commission approved a proposal to establish a “commingling management area” for the Missouri River Breaks population of bighorn sheep. That management action established boundaries to help prevent the possibility of commingling and disease transmission between wild and domestic sheep. The two bighorns removed last week were within the commingling management area, which encompasses land well outside of bighorn sheep habitat and in areas domestic sheep are known to occur. Wild sheep that wander into the exclusion zone can be removed by FWP to prevent the possibility of disease transmission from domestic herds back to existing wild bighorn populations.
Tissue samples were taken from the two rams, to test for respiratory diseases and determine overall health. “Populations of bighorn sheep in our area are doing excellent,” said Thompson. “However, wild sheep have a high risk for major die-offs due to disease. Other bighorn populations across the state have had respiratory disease issues leading to die-offs of all age classes within the herd. We strive to keep our herds as healthy as we can to prevent this.”
Thompson noted that disease in bighorn sheep populations is a serious issue in other areas of the state. In the Tendoy Mountains near Lima, for instance, there are plans to remove the entire herd, and later restock it with healthy bighorns. Other recent bighorn sheep die offs resulted in the closure of hunting district 122 near Plains and hunting district 305 near Gardiner until the herds there recover.
“FWP appreciates when landowners, neighbors, and recreationist let us know when they see wild and domestic sheep in close proximity,” said Quentin Kujala, FWP Wildlife Management Section Chief in Helena. “Without early notice, this incidence may have gone undetected. The management area concept maintains wildlife populations along with different land uses and really needs everybody’s participation to succeed.”
FWP are asking for anyone who detects bighorn sheep and domestic sheep in close proximity to please contact their local biologist, warden, or regional headquarters.
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