Disease continues to impact bighorn sheep herds across the West and many states are taking steps to keep herds healthy and stable. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) recently launched a study concentrated on the impact of respiratory disease on native bighorn sheep in the Owyhee Mountains. Researchers are currently collaring bighorn sheep within this region so that they can monitor the range of the disease – and track down the animal if it dies, KTVZ.com reports.
“You can lose 70 to 90 percent of your herd from an infection, so our primary management goal is to maintain that separation so that our bighorns don't come in contact with domestic sheep,” ODFW wildlife specialist Jeremy Thompson told KTVZ.com.
Roughly 3,000 California bighorn sheep and several hundred Rocky Mountain sheep call Oregon home. While the current population is healthy, ODFW hopes that the study will help keep the herds that way and, possibly, even help find a cure for the illness that has caused massive die-offs in multiple western states.
According to KTVZ.com, the state issues over 80 bighorn sheep tags each year, which helps fund studies like this one. However, the Owyhee Mountains are currently off limits to hunting due to the ongoing study. With multiple long-range bighorn sheep studies in progress, perhaps their recovery will soon be another success story.
“When you look at a species that was completely gone in the state by the 1920s and to back up to 4,000 individuals. I mean to me that is still a success story,” says Thompson. “This is a species that was completely wiped out, and through our management actions we've been able to bring them back.”