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 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 WSF 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: 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. 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.
Test and Capture
Volunteers helped prepare collars kits for capture and test efforts.
Chartered jetboat and provided volunteers for capture and test in Hells Canyon.
Main Salmon River and Lower Panther Creek test and capture. Chartered jetboat and provided volunteers. Produced Team Bighorn Video.
Lower Salmon (above Riggins) jetboat capture and test.
Improve Bighorn Habitat
Washington WSF fencing project.
Transport water to Nevada wildlife guzzlers.
Idaho Guzzler Project
Preserve Bighorn Habitat
Purchase easements and partner to purchase land critical to bighorn sheep.
Disease Research & Public Education
2019, 2020, 2022, 2023
Sheep capture-test-cull on Movi efforts in Hells Canyon.
Small Flock Program to establish Movi-free flocks & small domestic sheep flock education
2008 – ongoing
Contributions to State Universities, labs and doctors for disease research.
Sponsored member to attend hunting workshop for women.
Challis bighorn viewing station.
Bighorn Survey Assistance
Lower Owyhee Survey
Funding through WSF grant in aid through ION project.
Lamb survey assistance.
2007, 2009, 2015
Bighorn survey assistance for lamb survival study.
Reduce Risk of Contact
Helped to purchase and/or convert domestic sheep grazing allotments to cattle.