Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation in the Owyhee Front and Jack’s Creek
The remote wild lands of southwest Idaho are a place of lonely high deserts and of heat, cold and wind. They are intersected by deep, vertical canyons that are the home of the California bighorn sheep. After being extirpated here in the early 1900s wild sheep were reintroduced in the 1960s by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. That restoration was successful and it provided great sheep hunting opportunities for years, not to mention surplus animals translocated to restore other populations. The population grew through the mid-1990s, but has been in decline since and is now only half what it was 20 years ago.
The reason or reasons are unknown, but sheep on the Oregon side of the border are suffering a pneumonia outbreak and wild sheep do not respect state lines. Excessive rates of lion predation are also suspected, although this has not been rigorously documented. In December 2022, 13 rams and ewes were collared in the Owyhee Front, and 27 in Jacks Creek, to document their seasonal movements, measure cause-specific mortality and to check disease status.
The information gained will guide future management decisions. Funding was supplied through grants from Idaho, Oregon and Nevada Wild Sheep Foundation chapters and a $40,000 Grant in Aid from the national Wild Sheep Foundation. Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation donated $39,000 to the benefit of the California bighorn sheep of the Owyhee Front and Jack’s Creek.
Importantly, the ION partnership, founded in March 2022, has established a venue for the Idaho, Oregon and Nevada Wild Sheep Foundation chapters to work in collaboration with our respective state wildlife management agencies and federal land managers to benefit these California bighorns that range across multiple jurisdictions. The partnership facilitates communication, brainstorms ideas and coordinates action on the ground in wild sheep country.