bighorn sheep

A bighorn sheep is seen in this file photo.

FWP photo

Join Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation and the Montana Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation on Monday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Montana Natural History Center, 120 Hickory St., to learn about bighorn sheep and the disease issues that affect them.

Montana State University ecologist Bob Garrott will discuss the research he is conducting in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Bighorn sheep are an iconic species of western North America. Found in isolated, rugged and extreme habitats of the continent, wild sheep are vital economic, social and ecological components of these areas. Bighorn herds in Montana are having difficulties sustaining adequate population levels. This is evidenced today by die-offs that have occured in herds near Plains, Paradise, the Bitterroot Valley and Rock Creek.

Montana currently has 5,500 bighorn sheep in 48 herds across the state. Approximately 72 percent of those herds have fewer than 100 animals. During the winter of 2010 alone, Montana lost 20 percent of its total bighorn sheep population. Wild sheep are susceptible to diseases that affect herd viability. The most important disease affecting wild sheep populations are respiratory infections that result in pneumonia.

MSU and FWP are working together on a new study to understand why the number of bighorn sheep has declined so precipitously in Montana. The $1.2 million, six-year collaborative research project will investigate the complex issue from all angles and levels. The goal is to provide FWP with the information it needs to enhance bighorn sheep conservation and management in the state.

Missoulian Staff

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