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Wild Sheep Summit, Optimism and Concern

July 7, 2021
posted in: News

The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) recently concluded its 13th Chapter and Affiliate Summit in Lewistown, Idaho. The event was hosted by Idaho and Washington WSF, and Oregon FNAWS. On tap were discussions and scientific presentations on the present and future of wild sheep populations in North America. The result was a mix of celebration, optimism, concern, and action.
"Overall, our meeting was upbeat and positive," said Gray N. Thornton, president, and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. "We have a lot to be thankful for, especially when our collective efforts are paying dividends with new herds and many populations healthy and stable, yet there is more that needs to be done. We have herds still struggling with disease transmitted from domestics sheep, and it's already shaping up to be a tough water year in our southern latitudes."
More than 70 delegates attended from throughout WSF’s Chapter and Affiliate network, which encompasses North America, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia.
Thornton said, "It was great to see everyone again. Last year's Summit was canceled due to Covid. Only our brothers and sisters from Canada couldn't attend in person because of the border restrictions. They joined us via Zoom."
The number one problem negatively impacting wild sheep populations is disease (M.ovi) passed from domestic sheep to wild populations. Presentations included and update on the Hells Canyon initiative (est. 1995) to study, monitor, trap, test, and remove disease infected individuals from contaminating entire herds; new findings and strategies for disease mitigation; the impact on bighorn sheep from open-pit coal mining; a new WSF program titled Women Hunt™; and the challenges being brought to wild sheep populations from exploding, non-native Aoudad populations.
Attendees were treated to a grizzly bear experience and tour of the new Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) at Washington State University and a jet boat trip up the Snake River to view what has become the shining star of modern-day wild sheep conservation, the bighorn herds of Hells Canyon in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
"The last time we took this trip, if we saw a bighorn spring lamb, it was coughing and sneezing, a sure sign its days were numbered," Thornton explained. "This trip, we were ecstatic to hear of a 80% lamb survival.” 
The high lamb recruitment is the result of the Hells Canyon Initiative led by Frances Casssirer, Research Biologist with IDF&G and Scott Peckham of the Confederated Tribes of the Umitalla Indian Reservation, the removal of all domestic sheep from the canyon, and the “test & remove” protocol of removing M.ovi positive wild sheep."
The area of most concern was the current extreme drought situation in southern Nevada and elsewhere in the southern Rockies. 
Thornton said, "The entire state of Nevada is a conservation success story with their bold approach to putting and keeping wild sheep on the mountain. But, unfortunately, water developments installed for sheep and other wildlife collect water only when it rains. Over the last year, precipitation has been scarce to nothing, so we're taking action."
Eighty thousand dollars was raised between the WSF Chapters and Affiliates to fly water via helicopter into dry water entrapment stations throughout southern Nevada.

The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF), based in Bozeman, Mont., was founded in 1977 by wild sheep conservationists and enthusiasts. With a membership of more than 10,000 worldwide, WSF is the premier advocate for wild sheep and other mountain wildlife and their habitats. WSF has raised and expended more than $135 million on wild sheep habitat and population enhancements, education, and conservation advocacy programs in North America, Europe, and Asia to “Put and Keep Wild Sheep on the Mountain®.” These and other efforts have increased bighorn sheep populations in North America from historic lows in the 1950-60s of 25,000 to more than 85,000 today.

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