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Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep Need a Hand

Posted: 01/06/2009
by Kevin Colburn

One of the highlights of any Idaho river trip is the spectacular wildlife that paddlers glimpse on their way down the river.  An AW member recently shared with AW that the US Forest Service is currently considering the fate of one species of wildlife, bighorn sheep, in the infamous class III/IV Hells Canyon of the Snake.  Hells Canyon offers ideal rocky terrain for bighorn sheep to inhabit, and paddlers often marvel over bighorns’ almost supernatural coordination as they bound across canyon walls. 


Hells Canyon National Recreation Area contains three Wild and Scenic Rivers, 215,000 acres of Wilderness and North America's deepest river gorge.  Bighorn sheep in Hell’s canyon once numbered more than 10,000 animals; by 1940 they had been completely wiped out by disease and poor management.  Bighorn sheep were reintroduced to Hells Canyon in 1970 and now number around 900 animals, but restored populations are in jeopardy.  Bighorn sheep are currently at extreme risk from disease spread from contact with domestic sheep that graze on public lands in Hells Canyon.  Domestic sheep transmit pathogens to wild sheep which cause a deadly pneumonia, resulting in wide scale herd die-offs.  To reduce risks to Bighorn sheep, public grazing has been eliminated on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, but is still allowed in the Idaho portion.  New management plans include alternatives which could move domestic sheep to lands where they would not come into contact with wild sheep.


Please ask the Forest Service to find alternative grazing allotments for domestic sheep outside of historic wild sheep habitat in the Payette National Forest.


Sample Comments:


Dear Supervisor,


I strongly support management plan alternatives for the Payette National Forest that provide maximum protection for the Bighorn Sheep populations of Hells Canyon, the Salmon River and the Payette National Forest. I believe Big Horn Sheep are best protected by removing domestic sheep from all areas where they may come into contact with Bighorn Sheep. To this end I support proposed management alternative 7E, and ending the few remaining domestic sheep grazing allotments in the Payette National Forest.


Send Comments by March 3, 2009 to:


Background Info:


Video from Oregon Public Television on the dangers Bighorn sheep face from contact with domestic sheep:


Forest Service DSEIS Documents


News Article from Idaho Statesman


Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Info


Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC

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