Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Region 3 Director Pat Flowers decided against moving ahead with an option to reintroduce bighorn sheep into the Bridger Mountains this summer. He also decided not to dismiss the plan altogether. Instead, he chose an alternative that puts the plan on hold until measures could be taken to reduce the risk of disease.
The majority of public comments favored the reintroduction. Those opposed expressed concerns about property rights issues and other wildlife being hampered by required fencing.
Bighorn roamed the range as recently as the early 1900s, before overhunting, disease and competition with livestock took a toll. Disease is the main concern now.
Bighorn sheep succumb easily to diseases potentially carried by domestic sheep, so the two species need to be kept separate. That's a slight problem near the Bridger Mountains. No domestic sheep graze allotments in the mountains, but bighorn sheep wouldn't have to travel far before bumping into sheep farms. Ten landowners raise sheep on the west side of the range within a 12-mile radius of the Middle Cottonwood Creek introduction site. FWP normally prefers a separation distance of 14 miles.
One sheep raiser opposed the plan, and a few declined to install the double fencing needed to reduce the possibility of sheep nose-to-nose contact.
Under the chosen alternative, landowners, sheep producers and bighorn sheep advocates need to work together to develop ways to mitigate the risk.
Flowers said he'd review any proposals resulting from that collaborative effort in December 2013 and decide a course of action then.