Tag Archives: sheep hunting

“Sheep Week” Set The Bar HIgh

As the Wild Sheep Foundation’s (WSF) virtual “Sheep Week: The Experience” ends, I am in awe.

Having just watched an Arizona desert bighorn tag sell for $315,000, many other record tag bids and a week that took digital conservation communication to a new level, hope is alive and well.

That hope is that despite incredible setbacks due to COVID-19 that purpose and innovation can serve as a model for how future challenges can be met in a digital platform.

Everyone, myself included, hopes there will be an in-person “Sheep Show” in Reno, NV next year but if the pandemic continues, WSF officials have proven something impactful can still happen.

While total fundraising results were not available at the time of this writing, it should be anywhere between $4-5 million for the purpose of putting and keep wild sheep on the mountain.

And that of course is extremely important but there’s something else here.

And that is connection.

Among the numerous Zoom meetings, seminars, chat rooms and a very interactive vendor’s expo hall, sheep and mountain hunters from around the world were able to do business, get educated and make friends.

Officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department capture and move sheep at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Translocations are at the hart of sheep recovery. (Photo by Chester Moore)

As a wildlife journalist, I spent much of my time communicating with state and regional biologists and various WSF chapters and state sheep conservation groups.

With the desire to bring the latest in sheep coverage here and via our other media platforms it was great to connect with the people on the ground doing the work and getting the inside story of what’s happneing with wild sheep in North America.

While we humans are battling a pandemic, wild sheep have been contending with one since domestic sheep were brought out West in the 1800s. Pneumonia that is minimally impactful to domestic sheep is devastating to wild sheep and has had an impact at some level everywhere from Canada to Mexico.

Lambs like this Rocky Mountain bighorn lamb from New Mexico are especially susceptible to pneumonia. In fact, once a mother it exposed, most lambs don’t make this long. This is a six month-old lamb. (Photo by Chester Moore)

Conservationists like those involved with WSF and in the state, tribal, and provincial wildlife agencies have taken up the cause. Through population transplants, habitat and domestic sheep grazing management have brought the numbers up to about six-fold from their all-time low of 25,000.

But the problems that impacted sheep in the 1800s are still there and without conservation efforts of sheep hunters there would be little hope for these truly majestic animals.

It will be exciting to see the fundraising tally that will help so many states and provinces manage their wild sheep.

But in my opinion, an equally powerful victory was keeping the mountain hunting community connected and expanding the reach of WSF’s vision.

Sheep and mountain hunters sometimes crave time alone in the outdoors but need to stay connected to other like-minded individuals. (Photo by Demi Schlageter)

For the first time, the organization has topped 10,000 members, showing that “Sheep Week” was an experience that many found appealing.

That’s a very good thing because many challenges lie ahead for our beloved rams, ewes, and lambs.

“Sheep Week” shined the bright light of hope on them and set the proverbial bar for digital conservation interaction far above the tree line-into sheep country.

Chester Moore

Wild Sheep Pandemic Spreads

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.

The author photographed this bighorn at 12,000 feet in an area where grazing is restricted but these sheep don’t stay here all the time. Moving into grazing areas is highly dangerous. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

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.

Exposure to domestic sheep can be deadly for wild sheep.

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.

Dall sheep have been found with deadly pathogens in Alaska. Although most are in remote areas some do come into contact with domestic sheep.

“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.

Chester Moore

The Wildlife Of Elephant Mountain

Last week I had the incredible privilege of visiting Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) south of Alpine, TX.

Benny Benavidez with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) escorted me to the top of Elephant Mountain on a quest to photograph desert bighorn sheep along with mule deer and other wildlife for a series of articles.

There will be a major magazine feature coming soon specifically about the bighorns of Elephant Mountain WMA. I will provide details here upon publication. You can check out my story “Desert Homecoming” about the Texas desert bighorn restoration program in the Nov./Dec. edition of Sports Afield.

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Until then enjoy the above video and a few of the photos I took on this inspirational trip.

This place embodies wildlife conservation and is the epicenter of Texas’ desert bighorn sheep restoration.

big mule deer doe
A desert mule deer doe showed no fear as we drove up the mountain. Be on the lookout for a special report on Texas mule deer coming soon here at Higher Calling. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

young mule deer buck
We saw numerous young mule deer bucks on and around the mountain. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

javelina
This javelina (collared peccary) was super shy but I managed to at least get this photo. These animals are one of the most unique animals in Texas and common in the Trans Pecos. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

rams on elephant mountain
This was what the trip was all about. I managed to get numerous photos of this herd of bighorns. This herd of one big ram, a bunch of ewes and a few lambs is about half of what the entire Texas population was in 1976. Texas now has around 1,500 bighorns which is a great tribute to the hard work of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and groups like the Texas Bighorn Society and The Wild Sheep Foundation. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Again, I will have a major magazine feature on Elephant Mountain in the coming months and will post details here. I will also have more from this trip before year’s end.

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Chester Moore, Jr.