- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana wildlife commissioners on Thursday rejected a proposal to move some bighorn sheep out of state, saying they would prefer the agency either find new locations here or transfer animals between existing herds.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency officials had recommended ending the state’s policy barring the relocation of sheep from Montana, saying overpopulated herds were making the animals prone to disease outbreaks and that they were having trouble finding suitable relocation sites within the state.

Of particular concern are the sheep in the Missouri River Breaks, where the population this summer was estimated to be 436, or 111 animals over what the agency says the population should be. Agency officials had recommended reducing the numbers by transferring some of the sheep out of state to prevent disease and to keep bighorn sheep from commingling with domestic sheep in the area.

South Dakota had requested bighorn sheep from Montana this winter. Washington state and Nebraska have requested animals during the winter of 2015-16, officials said.

But after hearing from multiple people who were opposed to the plan, Montana Fish and Wildlife commissioners meeting in Bozeman voted against the agency’s recommendations.

Commissioners said relocating sheep out of state should be a last resort, and that allowing the wildlife agency to do so now may cause officials to scale back their search for suitable in-state locations.

The commissioners urged the agency to speed up its study of the health risks of transferring sheep between existing herds and left open the possibility of changing the state’s bighorn sheep conservation strategy.

The state adopted its policy against out-of-state relocations in response to hunter complaints when 60 sheep were transplanted to Utah in 2009.

The conservation strategy calls for establishing five new herds in Montana in locations that meet specific criteria for habitat and hunter access. The in-state relocation sites that have been suggested have been too close to domestic sheep and goats that can spread disease, lack adequate habitat or lack public access necessary to allow hunting.


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