Idaho Wild Sheep


Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation Conservation Efforts

The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation is true to its mission of, “Putting and keeping sheep on the mountain.” Our team of volunteers is dedicated not only to raising the funding necessary to accomplish this, but has actually implemented projects that have increased bighorn sheep numbers. Our members also donate their time on the ground to restoring and enhancing wild sheep populations in Idaho. We frequently issue appeals to our members to participate in hands-on projects that include population surveys to count sheep and lambs in the field, preparation of kits including data cards, radio collars, nasal swabs and syringes for use in capture operations, and assistance to Fish and Game biologists during the capture and collaring of wild sheep on location in the Idaho hills.

Many threats face our bighorn sheep, but the main factor that keeps their populations struggling is the respiratory disease affecting adults and lambs alike. Wild sheep would be nearly as abundant as deer and elk except for a pneumonia-like malady that causes all-age die-offs and often requires decades from which to recover. The microbes responsible are known and the main culprit is Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, or Movi for short. It is host specific in domestic goats and sheep and is transmitted to wild sheep through direct contact between the species. Currently, there are no vaccines or treatments and based on documented science the Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation advocates separation of domestic goats and sheep from wild sheep to prevent outbreaks.

Understanding the extent of the disease problem is the first step toward mitigating it. Most of our current projects are concerned with understanding the extent to which Movi affects our wild sheep, especially those herds occupying remote range that have been little studied in the past.

Toward that end, we are working with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to implement a statewide action plan to capture, sample and collar wild sheep in six populations across the state. While this is our main focus, other threats to wild sheep are not being ignored. We are also interested the potential effects of mountain lion predation on bighorn sheep, especially in the Owyhee’s where there is evidence it might be a problem.

To learn more about specific projects follow the links below, and keep your eyes open for your own opportunities to help us recover Idaho’s wild sheep, whether it be assisting with your time, talents or treasure. Working together we can and must put more bighorn sheep on the mountain.

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.

Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation on the Lower Panther Creek/Main Salmon River

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-IWSF volunteers to participate.

Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation on the Lower Main Salmon River

Our goals on the lower main Salmon are the same as those for the lower Panther Creek/main Salmon River population: to clear Movi, thus allowing for bighorn sheep populations to increase. The research is expected to result in less invasive techniques to clear Movi from wild sheep herds.

Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation on Jim Sage

The success of Idaho Department of Fish and Game reintroductions in Owyhee County produced surplus sheep which were used to re-establish the current Jim Sage population.

In December 2022, 15 rams and ewes were captured and collared on Jim Sage Mountain, to document seasonal movements, habitat use, cause-specific mortality and to acquire the knowledge necessary to mitigate the chances of contact between wild sheep and the domestic sheep that potentially carry Movi.

Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation: Hells Canyon Initiative

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.

Idaho Wild Sheep Conservation: Movi-free Farm Flock Program

Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation, as a member of the Hells Canyon Initiative is engaged in a program to work with owners of small domestic sheep and goat flocks. The emphasis of this program is to identify small flock owners in or adjacent to bighorn sheep habitat. The Movi issue and the importance of avoiding direct contact between their stock and wild sheep is explained to these owners.


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