Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation: Hells Canyon Initiative
ID WSF: $2K (boat charter)
Few seem to know that along Idaho’s western border the Snake River has carved North America’s deepest canyon: Hells Canyon. It’s so big that it contains its own mountains, forests and deserts, and it is home to what became a wild sheep success story. Extirpated by the 1930s, bighorn sheep were reintroduced in the 1980s and the population grew until an all-age disease outbreak killed many in the mid-1990s. Poor lamb recruitment had since characterized the herd and Movi was eventually identified as the culprit. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game began studying the feasibility of test and remove procedures, in which individual sheep diagnosed as Movi “super shedders” were removed from the population. This was amazingly successful.
Currently, 17 of the 19 subpopulations of Idaho’s Hells Canyon bighorn sheep are Movi-free and lamb recruitment has tripled. Today, Hells Canyon is famous for producing some of the most outstanding bighorn sheep trophies in America. The Idaho state record, scoring 208 and 2/8ths, was taken there in 2019. The Hells Canyon Initiative is a collaboration of the Oregon, Washington and Idaho wildlife agencies and the state Wild Sheep Foundation chapters, created to accelerate the restoration of bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon.
In future work, radio collared bighorn sheep in Hells Canyon will continue to be monitored to gain better information on population performance, habitat use, and movements, post Movi clearance. This information will also be used to offer bighorn sheep hunting opportunities. In December of 2022, 15 collars were deployed on adult females, males, and lambs to record changes in habitat use for this healthy, growing population of bighorn sheep. Several ID WSF volunteers assisted in the capture.