- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana wildlife officials want to be able to move bighorn sheep out of the state after running into trouble finding suitable places for the animals in the Treasure State.

A request is pending from South Dakota to receive transplanted bighorn sheep this winter. Washington state and Nebraska have requested animals during the winter of 2015-16, officials said.

Since 1939, more than 2,700 sheep have been trapped in Montana for transplant to augment or start new herds. That’s helped restore a population that was severely reduced to a small number of remnant bands by 1930, after the settlement of the West brought disease, competition from livestock and subsistence hunting.

But it’s been more than a decade since the last new population was established in the state, during the winter of 2003-04 in the Greenhorn Mountains south of Virginia City.

After 60 sheep were transplanted to Utah in 2009, wildlife commissioners at the request of some hunters adopted a policy against moving the animals to other states. In 2010, state officials set a target to create five new herds in Montana over the next decade.

That hasn’t happened.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said they’ve looked for suitable sites but have run into problems - even as they seek to reduce the size of some existing herds to make them more resistant to disease.

“When you get abundant sheep in these wild populations, if they get overpopulated they have more potential problems with disease,” agency spokesman Ron Aasheim said. “We just haven’t had any luck (with in-state transplant sites.) Out-of-state right now appears to be the option.”

Fish, Wildlife and Parks representatives will make their case for the change during a Wednesday meeting of state wildlife commissioners in Bozeman.

Some in-state relocation sites that have been suggested have been too close to domestic sheep and goats that can spread disease. Landowners have resisted those proposals, Aasheim said, fearing wild sheep would create a problem for them.

Other sites have inadequate habitat or lack public access necessary to allow hunting.

Both of those reasons were cited by the agency in its recommendation not to pursue a proposed reintroduction on Livingston Peak in the Absaroka Range south of Livingston.

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