Biology can call for some strange approaches to managing wildlife, and when Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) proposed to remove an entire sheep population, it left several people scratching their heads trying to understand the logic.

The problem is disease. Pneumonia is endemic within the entire population of bighorn sheep that reside in the Tendoy Mountains, in Hunting District 315 of Montana. There were big sheep die-offs in 1993 and again in 1997, and although there have been attempts to bolster the population, the outcome has never been enough to help the herd. With little or no lamb recruitment, a plan was devised to bring all stakeholders together to try a radical new approach.

The pneumonia problem stems from contact between domestic sheep and goats and the wild bighorn sheep. So, as part of this sheep-saving plan, researchers have found strains of sheep that don’t carry the pneumonia virus. The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) and its Montana chapter are working with Montana FWP and several universities to learn more about domestic sheep, and then work with producers that share the same range as bighorn sheep. Having pneumonia-free domestic sheep in the Tendoys before bighorn sheep are reintroduced will hopefully give the animals a running start.

Bighorn sheep will then be trapped from healthy herds with robust populations and reintroduced to the Tendoys, where the WSF will help with radio collar research to monitor habitat use and identify risk factors.

The project brings together wildlife managers, hunters, volunteers, livestock producers, and researchers from several universities. Having all stakeholders involved means the project has a good chance for success.

This is a new wildlife management technique that hasn’t been used before, so the information and data collected could have huge impacts on wildlife management across North America.

Yes, killing all the sheep in the Tendoy Mountains can be a good thing for everyone involved, including the mighty bighorns themselves.

Editor’s note: Sitka Gear has produced a compelling video (below) depicting the issue of the Tendoy Mountain bighorns. By creating awareness and informing the public about new wildlife management initiatives, we all benefit. This is a great story being told and promoted from within the hunting industry, and it’s a testament to Sitka Gear company values and its commitment to the resource.

TENDOYS – SITKA Gear from SITKA Gear on Vimeo.

Image is a screen-shot from the Vimeo video

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  • Snug

    It is an interesting concept . I have talked to a wildlife biologist who said there are some seminal research studies indicating that brucellosis was a major component to the near extinction of bison in the west ; particularly the southern herd . The common factor both ideas is the introduction of a pathogen new to a species and the lack of any resistance to it is devastating to the group . The other side of the equation , eliminating the disease from domestic animals in the area is problematical . The economic effect on the domestic animal owners has to have an equal benefit to them or the program is doomed to failure , leaving the big horns gone with reintroduction a vanished dream .