Pneumonia has spread into the Northeast Oregon bighorn sheep herd.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) have determined that the same strain of bacterial pneumonia that caused a die-off in the Lookout Mountain bighorn sheep herd in early 2020 has spread to the Burnt River herd.
ODFW officials reported this is the first-time bacterial pneumonia (caused by the organism Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae) has been identified in the Burnt River herd.
While I-84 normally separates the herds, bighorn sheep have been known to try to cross the highway. The Lookout Mountain herd ranges north of I-84 and west of Brownlee Reservoir, about 10 miles from the Burnt River Canyon herd, which is south of I-84.
Most concerning of all is that all lambs in the Lookout Mountain herd have died although adult mortality has tapered off.
This latest spread of pneumonia in wild sheep which is caused by exposure to domestic sheep is why I believe the least covered wildilfe tragedy (at the national level) in America is this pandemic.
And it is a pandemic-at least at the level of existing in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
It is what killed nearly two million wild sheep in the 1800s and continues today.
Local news coverage and hunting-based conservation groups are the only ones to touch this topic. When is the last time you saw something about this on a major wildlife television network?
Since wild sheep are managed by many different state, provincial and tribal agencies, few are aware of the myriad outbreaks of pneumonia happening right now.
Even in the Internet age, it can be challenging to know what’s happening in the Yukon for example when you live in Texas.
Alaska’s Dall sheep population has long been seen as bulletproof so to speak due to vast contiguous habitat and strict management.
In 2018 officials however, found bacterial pneumonia in four Dall sheep within a sample of 136 and in two of 39 mountain goats.
“The Dall sheep testing positive for M. ovi were all in Game Management Unit 13A; all were taken by hunters and appeared healthy. The mountain goats were live captured and released in Southeast and on the Kenai Peninsula and showed no sign of illness; only samples from goats on the Kenai tested positive,” according to officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“Our initial research has confirmed M. ovi in a small number of Dall sheep and mountain goats in relatively isolated areas of the state,” said Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale.
There have been no reported die-offs but the finding is concerning, especially when you look at what has happened recently in Oregon.
We will continue coverage of the sheep pandemic and also show recovery efforts that have taken sheep numbers far above where they were by their all-time low early in the 20th century.
It’s an important issue and in our corner of the world it will remain at the top of the priority list.