Montana’s Fish& Wildlife Commission today closed another bighorn sheep hunting district, this one north of Plains in northwestern Montana, due to a suspected disease-related die-off.
Today’s action came in response to a suspected die-off that’s claimed more than 90 bighorn sheep from hunting district 122 within the past two years, leaving only 18 seen during a helicopter survey earlier this month, the lowest count since the herd’s introduction in 1979.
Last month the commission closed bighorn sheep hunting district 305, near Gardiner due to a confirmed pneumonia die-off of 34 sheep.
Wildlife managers say that while the reason for the decline in hunting district 122 can’t be determined with certainty they suspect pneumonia, which could be related to interactions with domestic sheep that occurred on the winter range in 2012 and 2013.
“The rapid population decline is typical of a disease outbreak,” said Neil Anderson, FWP’s wildlife manager in Kalispell. “Because the southern Cabinet Mountains are so rugged we haven’t yet documented typical symptoms like coughing nor have we located any dead bighorn sheep. In that mountainous country, a sick bighorn could easily die in the rugged cliffs and not be found.”
Commissioners voted unanimously via today’s conference call to close the 2015 bighorn sheep season in hunting district 122 to further protect the herd and to preclude hunters from applying for licenses there.
Prior to this emergency closure, FWP had offered six either-sex and four ewe licenses in the district. So far about 200 people have already applied for a license. Those applicants, and others who might apply, will be offered the opportunity to apply elsewhere or be given a refund. Last year about 900 hunters applied for the district’s licenses. The deadline to apply for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and bison permits is May 1.
Hunting district 122 would reopen to hunting when the population recovers. The 2015 hunting season in hunting district 122 would have run Sept. 5-14 for archery and Sept. 15-Nov. 29 for the general season.
The deadline to apply for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison permits is May 1.
(Report by Montana FWP)