|Major Implications for Our Industry
(July 1, 2012) Over the last several years a major challenge for our industry has been the restrictions being placed on domestic sheep grazing on the national forests throughout the West where bighorns could interact with bands of domestic sheep. These decisions have major implications for our industry. While only 5 percent of bighorn habitat as mapped by the Forest Service is within domestic sheep allotments, fully 23 percent of all domestic sheep in the country use that land. If it became unavailable for domestic sheep grazing, the entire industry would suffer, along with packing houses, woolen mills and all who depend on lamb, wool and sheep by-products as a key part of their business.
We view this development with great alarm. Congress shares this concern and enacted a restriction on further reductions in domestic sheep grazing in bighorn habitat until more is known about the actual causal agents of the disease, how it is transmitted under actual range conditions and what actions might be taken to eliminate or mitigate risks of transmission. In addition, Congress, in the report for the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, noted, “The Committee encourages ARS (Agricultural Research Service) to pursue work to determine the role of domestic sheep in causing die-offs of bighorn sheep from respiratory disease and develop methods to reduce transmission and enhance immunity in domestic and bighorn sheep.”
This past year the American Sheep Industry Association put out a solicitation to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ARS in addressing this critical issue. Through the generosity of our members, we have committed $50,000 to this effort. ARS’s purpose in undertaking this research is to:
- further develop the knowledge regarding the actual causes of fatal pneumonic disease in wild herds of bighorn sheep;
- if domestic sheep can transmit the relevant pathogens, fully asses the risk that transmission and disease occurrence can happen under actual grazing conditions; and
- identify actions that can minimize or mitigate any risk plus other actions that can be employed to prevent epidemics within wild bighorn populations.
In completing this work, ARS proposes the following actions and methodologies:
- determine actual and potential contact time(s) between domestic and bighorn sheep on open range;
- determine pathogen shedding of domestic sheep flocks in range management conditions;
- should bighorn and domestic sheep come into contact, determine risk by sedating sheep and moving them to a research facility in Pullman, Wash., for long-term health determination; and
- identify if, and approximately when, the bacteria that are and have been associated with bighorn sheep pneumonia may have entered wild herds by analyzing serum antibody titers in historically archived bighorn sheep serum samples, as available.
This research will provide the data that is essential for state and federal agencies to make informed decisions on how best to structure domestic sheep grazing to minimize bighorn and domestic sheep contact and mitigate risks, if such actions are warranted.
Without this research our industry is at the mercy of judicial and environmental activism.