Tribal wildlife program reports monitoring continues on herd
A bighorn ram from the Mt. Hull herd in Okanogan County was recently tested and found to have died from pneumonia caused by an infectious bacteria known as M. ovi. The bacteria can decimate bighorn populations and lambs and prevent herds from repopulating but poses no threat to humans.
The Colville Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife (CTFW) Department and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) would like the public to report bighorns that appear sickly, lethargic, coughing and or showing nasal discharge.
“At this time we do not know the full extent of the pneumonia outbreak at Mt. Hull, but we are working diligently in coordination with WDFW staff to increase local monitoring efforts throughout their range,” said Eric Krausz, wildlife biologist for CTFW.
“This is a highly visible herd. These sheep are in orchards and among houses,” said WDFW Biologist Jeff Heinlen. “Because we can’t be watching all the time, we are asking people to alert us if they notice sick sheep. This helps us assess the health of the herd.”
Tribal and state biologists are testing additional bighorns and have partnered together to increase visual monitoring efforts of the Mt. Hull herd that is located near the Canadian border.
According to biologists, there is potential for wandering bighorn sheep to pass M. ovi to animals in other herds, such as the Omak Lake herd on the Colville Indian Reservation to the south, the Sinlahekin herd to the west or herds to the North just across the border in British Columbia.
“In 2012 the Colville Tribes conducted a genetic analysis between the Sinlahekin, Mt. Hull, and Omak Lake herds, showing us that the Omak Lake herd was likely founded by individuals from the Sinlahekin herd, but may have been in contact through immigration with the Mt. Hull herd in the past,” said Krausz. “We have documented collared bighorn sheep traveling from Omak Lake to Mt. Hull, so we know bighorn sheep from these distinct herds travel back and forth on occasion and likely come into contact with one another.”
Because of this, WDFW and CTFW are asking to be alerted if bighorn sheep are observed in places they aren’t normally seen. The Mt. Hull herd’s typical range is from approximately Tonasket to the Canadian border north of Oroville.
There are approximately 17 bighorn sheep herds across Washington State, two of which are within the bounds of the Colville Indian Reservation.
If you spot a bighorn sheep that has any of the symptoms mentioned above, please contact Jarred Erickson, wildlife biologist for CTFW at 509-634-2122 or by e-mail at Jarred.Erickson.FNW@colvilletribes.com.