Bighorn Sheep

Travis S. / Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service is illegally jeopardizing a small herd of bighorn sheep with deadly diseases by allowing thousands of domestic sheep to graze in eastern Idaho as part of agricultural research activities, environmental groups have said in a lawsuit.

Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians in the lawsuit filed Tuesday contend the grazing of sheep owned by the University of Idaho via permits issued to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sheep Experiment Station risks transmitting diseases to bighorn sheep.

Washington State Department of Transportation / Flickr Creative Commons

One five-year-old and one six-year-old ram were killed near Challis Thursday. In a press release, Idaho Fish and Game officials say they attempted to first capture the animals with darts, but ended up euthanizing them after those attempts failed.

Domestic sheep carry diseases that can be devastating for wild bighorn herds. A 2010 state policy outlined the practice of removing animals that have come into contact with livestock. Samples from both the sheep and the rams have been sent to a lab for testing.

Travis S. / Flickr

A federal judge has ruled that a U.S. Forest Service plan to reduce domestic sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest by about 70 percent to protect bighorn sheep from diseases will remain in place.

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge A. Wallace Tashima, sitting by designation for the District of Idaho, made the ruling on Tuesday.

Sheep ranchers in Idaho and other states in 2012 sued the Forest Service over the bighorn sheep protection plan announced in 2010.

WA Wildlife Managers to Euthanize Bighorn Sheep

Apr 3, 2013
Travis S. / Flickr

Wildlife managers are euthanizing bighorn sheep in central Washington. A herd has been infected with a disease that causes pneumonia.

In wild bighorn sheep, this disease is most often fatal. There are no treatments or preventive measures. It has significantly reduced one herd in central Washington. The numbers have dwindled from 200 to fewer than 50.

Scott Ki / Boise State Public Radio

Three conservation groups want to stop domestic sheep from grazing on certain areas within the Payette National Forest.  They fear Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep will catch diseases transmitted by their domestic cousins.  These groups filed a motion in federal court this week to force the U.S Forest Service to further restrict sheep grazing.