Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation on the Lower Panther Creek/Main Salmon River
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the wild sheep of central Idaho to bighorn conservation. Ranging in the hills above the mighty main Salmon, the lower Panther Creek/main Salmon sheep are unique in that they are a genetically discrete, native population that was not extirpated during settlement times. Due to the remoteness of their ranges they have been little studied. Only since our work began have we even had realistic population estimates and they have not previously been surveyed for Movi prevalence.
In March 2022, 62 bighorn sheep ewes and rams were collared along the Main Salmon, ranging from Shoup, downstream past Panther Creek and west to the border of the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness area. Sheep were captured by helicopter net gun and flown to staging areas for their work-up, providing opportunity for ID WSF volunteers to participate.
ID WSF: $6K
WSF GIA: $25K
Midwest WSF: $9K
The bighorn sheep of the lower Panther Creek/main Salmon River are part of a metapopulation that ranges across much of central Idaho. As such, disease events here can be a risk to half the remaining bighorn sheep in Idaho, and these bighorns are one of the few remaining native populations throughout the species range in North America. These collars will provide habitat use data, movement data and aid in sheep hunt season setting, as well as provide information to land management agencies. At this time, it has not been possible to obtain Forest Service permission to operate inside the wilderness area, resulting in a lack of testing for a substantial part of the population; however, ID WSF is exploring avenues to obtain the necessary permits.
These animals are part of an important proof of concept study to improve the efficiency of clearing Movi from affected herds by test and remove techniques, without the need to capture and test every individual. Since test and remove has been very successful at clearing Movi, thereby increasing lamb recruitment and total population numbers in Hells Canyon; we hope for similar results in central Idaho. Additional follow-up capture work will be necessary to perform repeat Movi testing on previously positive animals.