Sun River bighorns

Oak

Expert
Joined
Dec 23, 2000
Messages
13,588
Location
Colorado
Bighorn herd struggles along the Rocky Mountain Front

With the Sun River bighorn sheep herd declining by more than half in five years, state wildlife biologists are trying to figure out how that will affect hunting licenses, what it means for the animals’ long-term future and what’s causing the drop.

“That’s the million dollar question,” said Brent Lonner, Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist. ”We’ve got a pretty good idea that pneumonia is the ultimate culprit. What’s causing it is the big question.”

In April 2010, Lonner counted 933 bighorn sheep in the Sun River herd on the Rocky Mountain Front. The Sun River herd is roughly defined as bighorn sheep from Ear Mountain south to the Benchmark area.

This year he counted 329 animals. Wildlife counts are considered a minimum of the population.

“The number was probably closer to 400 because the spring weather was mild and the animals were not as concentrated,” he said.

The most significant drop in numbers has hit each year’s lamb crop.

“Ideally I should see 30 to 40 lambs per 100 ewes on early spring surveys,” Lonner said. “Now, I’m seeing 10 lambs per 100 ewes, though that is up slightly from 2011 when I saw five lambs per 100 ewes.

“Based on summer surveys, the ewes are producing lambs, but many of the lambs are not surviving to late summer or early fall. This phenomenon is similar to what has been observed in other wild sheep herds post disease and die-off. It’s caused by the lingering effects of the disease.”

Pneumonia in wild sheep often comes from bacteria carried and tolerated by domestic sheep. If enough of the bacteria get into a bighorn’s lungs, it starts a cascade of events that triggers an autoimmune response, where the body attacks its own defenses, leading to pneumonia and death.

Because there are no domestic sheep near the Front, it’s unclear how the wild sheep picked up the bacteria or even the type of bacteria causing the problem. What is clear is this herd has not added many young animals to its ranks for five years.

Lonner is also positive the significant increase in deaths of each year’s lambs is not tied to predators or weather: “That’s not the cause of the big downturn in sheep.”

Although young sheep are not entering the population, the herd has a solid number of older rams in some areas.

“For example, in Hunting District 422, which includes Castle Reef,” Lonner said, “I counted 49 rams out of 119 total sheep this spring, and of those rams about 75 percent were three-quarter curl or better. Those are 4- to 5-year-old sheep or older.”

This year FWP has proposed four either-sex sheep licenses for HD 422; there have been no ewe tags for two years. Lonner hasn’t decided whether to recommend upping the either-sex licenses, perhaps, by one or two.

“Do we maintain four tags for a few years in hopes we can make the most of the older age rams we have now for as long as we can?” Lonner asked. “Or bump that number up by a tag or two for the next couple of years to add opportunity now?”

The FWP Commission will finalize the number of 2015 bighorn sheep licenses at its June 11 meeting.

Anyone with questions or comments can contact Lonner at his Fairfield office at 406-467-2488.

Whatever the decision, how to improve current sheep health is not certain.

“Until lamb recruitment improves, I don’t expect the numbers to rebound any time soon,” Lonner said. “How to stop it? That’s what we are trying to figure out.”

Last year, Montana State University and FWP began a statewide bighorn sheep research project, looking at the animals’ biology and ecology. The study includes several herds throughout the state, including the Sun River bunch.
 

MontanaWild

New member
Joined
Jan 7, 2012
Messages
301
So none of that has to do with predators huh? I've got a strong feeling the locals may think differently.
 

MT_Wyatt

New member
Joined
Jan 6, 2013
Messages
86
Location
Great Falls, MT
Thanks for positng.
I ran into a biologist pulling a full curl dead ram off of the side of the road in sun canyon this winter......it wasn't hit by a car, FWP thought it was probably sick. Too bad.
I typically apply for 422 as well.
 

shoots-straight

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 6, 2005
Messages
6,233
Location
Bitterroot Valley
"Locals" usually always blame predators first. Even if evidence proves otherwise. mtmuley

The bar stool biologist told me and I quote: "We don't need no dern study to tell us why the games in decline, I can tell you for a fact that the non native giant, tape worm riddled, wolf's is to blame on everything from less game to Obama care"
 

thecrittergitter

New member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
2,424
Location
Bozeman, MT
The day after I applied for my sheep tag this year, I got notice they closed my unit. A local guy brought in a bunch of domestic sheep and put them right into the main meadow that all the bighorns in the unit like to winter at and spend early spring. They found I believe it was 19 dead sheep within 1/2 mile of that pasture.

Understanding that it is private land, and people can do what they want with their private land, I have a hard time believing that there wasn't some malicious thoughts here. For 36 years, I don't ever recall the guy ever putting sheep in this little pasture, now knowing how important it is to keep the two separated, why in the frick put them there knowing it would MOST LIKELY be catastrophic to the wild sheep there.

Good by to one of the best sheep units in the state.........:(

Real bummer..........watching all the sheep numbers go down is disheartening. Even more so since its the only tag I can apply for during the next 5 years..
 

BigHornRam

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 15, 2004
Messages
8,791
Location
"Land of Giant Rams"
The Spanish Peaks herd, which once was an unlimited herd, was closed down years ago due to poor lamb numbers. Turned out to be a particular lion, which developed a taste for lamb, and was tossing them down like popcorn. Lion was removed, and sheep population recovered. Unit is now on a limited draw.
 

elkguy

New member
Joined
Aug 27, 2015
Messages
3
Bighorn herd struggles along the Rocky Mountain Front

We all know the bighorns are dying from pneumonia. That is the end result of their problem which is started by a very heavy parasite problem. I have done fecal tests on these animals and they have such a large and varied load of parasite it's no wonder they are having problems. The fact that the fecal material had tape worm segments on it would indicate adult tape worms in the sheep.

It is a know fact a heavy parasite problem will suppress the immune system and allow the adults to catch any disease that comes along. It is also a fact that the lambs will be born with a heavy worm load at birth which will cause the death of the lambs at two to three months old.
There was only one method to help the bighorn sheep and that was to treat the sheep on the wintering grounds with a wormer block when they are congregated. Albendazole wormer is very effective in the removal and control of stomach
worms, tapeworms, intestinal and lung worms which these sheep have in abundance.
A wormer put in salt blocks that will kill tape worms and most other worms should be a priority of the FW&P.
 

Oak

Expert
Joined
Dec 23, 2000
Messages
13,588
Location
Colorado
It is also a fact that the lambs will be born with a heavy worm load at birth which will cause the death of the lambs at two to three months old.

Do you have a source I could read specific to the quote above? Thanks.
 

elkguy

New member
Joined
Aug 27, 2015
Messages
3
Sun River Bighorns

Oak I don't have a specific source but you could ask any Veterinary. Worms migrate in stage one to many parts of the body where they stay dormant till they can find a host or are just encapsulated and stay locked in that part of the body. Many will end up in the uterus and sit dormant till a fetus is there. They will then enter the fetus. It will only take ten to fourteen days for those worms that entered the fetus to be an adult and as such it will start to reproduce and by the time the lamb is born it will have many worms. As stated then the immune system is suppressed and the worm load will have an effect on the lambs surviving. Tape worms will kill lambs if not controlled. The Sun River herd has tape worms in abundance plus many other types of worms.
We have to start with the basics for animal health so our wonderful wild bighorn sheep are not at risk. I think we here are all looking for answers on how to help these great animals. It is a fact we would not be able to treat bighorns with pneumonia in the wild so we should look for a way to help them at a basic level of health. Parasite control would help the wild sheep by increasing their immune system as worms suppress the immune system and worms lower the health of those bighorns by stealing nutrients that these bighorns need in winter to survive and produce lambs..
My knowledge comes from my personal information as I raise bighorn sheep. My main source of information is from my veterinary friends. If you want PM me and I will give you my Veterinary source and he will share what he has told me.
I gave this suggestion to Brent and was even asked to see if such a wormer block could be made. The ADM company did say they would make the block. My point to the FWP was what could it hurt to try it when the sheep were on their winter grounds. It would be a better alternative than just identifying that they died from pneumonia. I was on private property and the rancher did have salt blocks for his stock and sheep and mule deer were all over it so I know it would work. My personal opinion is it would help the bighorns health to attempt to control the parasite problem.
 
Last edited:

sra61

Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2003
Messages
426
Location
Kalispell, MT
The wormer sounds like good idea! I just don't understand why they try something! I really wanted to get a chance to hunt a sheep once before I get too old to do it. Those days are numbered now though.
 

Ben Lamb

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 6, 2010
Messages
14,044
Location
Cedar, MI
So none of that has to do with predators huh? I've got a strong feeling the locals may think differently.

You can get 5 OTC wolf tags and it's a general lion area. If folks are concerned about the predators, they can go hunt them.

But it's not predators, and Brent's a local. He's lived up there for a long time and knows that country like the back of his hand. He's a very well respected member of the community. If he says it's not predators, it's not predators.
 

elkguy

New member
Joined
Aug 27, 2015
Messages
3
I've lived in this area 50 plus years and I also don't believe the problem is with wolves or lions. Sure some are eaten but they have been eaten in the past.
Our bigger problem is with pneumonia which is the end disease the sheep get. The lamb population is not there for replacements so the herd just keep going down in numbers.
I feel we brought the problem to the sheep with our livestock with the parasites that have been introduced to their habitat. It is up to the Department to try and fix this problem or a bunch of us could buy these blocks and try it ourselves on private property in winter. Price on the wormer blocks was about 5000 for three pallets of these wormer blocks. The sheep sure generate that much income to the FWP to try something new because what they are doing now is not working.
They tried this many years ago but bought cattle blacks which were made with grain. As soon as they got wet the block rotted or got washed away.
As I said I raise rocky mountain sheep and mine will eat these blocks so I see no reason why wild sheep wouldn't also. As I said the sheep were on private property and they were eating salt blocks put out for the ranchers livestock. . To me this is a no brainer because just watching them die isn't the answer.
 
Last edited:

Forum statistics

Threads
94,624
Messages
1,412,146
Members
29,681
Latest member
stevebridson301
Top