Plan mulled to protect bighorn sheep herd
Sunday, November 19, 2006, 12:01 AM
When the South Okanagan’s bighorn sheep population was decimated by pneumonia a few years ago, wildlife experts pinned the blame on local domestic sheep flocks.
Now, a new agreement is in the works which could reduce the potential for future transmissions of sheep-borne viruses to wild herds.
The California bighorn sheep population plummeted to about 160 following the outbreak of pneumonia in 1999. Their numbers have since rebounded to just over 300.
Brian Harris, a wildlife biologist with the Ministry of Environment in Penticton, said the arrangement worked out with the Ministry of Agriculture calls for improved fencing in high-risk areas and a reduction in the number of domestic sheep in those areas.
“Our objective was to reduce the risk of contact between the two species,” he said.
The pneumonia virus is often carried by domestic sheep and goats without any serious impact on their health. However, if transmitted to wild sheep — mainly through nose-to-nose contact — the virus can be deadly for the bighorns.
In 2000, there were only 121 domestic sheep in areas adjacent to Bighorn habitat in the South Okanagan-Similkameen. Plans call for a minimum allowable flock size of 25 breeding female domestic sheep, which would eliminate the small number of sheep kept on some small farms in the area.
Stan Coombs, land use agrologist with the Agriculture Ministry in Kelowna, said it’s hoped the agreement will allow for serious sheep farmers to remain in business, while offering a level of protection for bighorn sheep.
“We don’t like any restrictions on farming, but we think it’s important to work with the Ministry of Environment, First Nations and the regional district to protect the bighorn sheep population here in the southern Okanagan.”
Coombs said he is willing to recommend to the agriculture minister that the proposal be accepted.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board agreed to further study the proposed changes to its animal control bylaw, with a decision likely to be made in January.
Naramata director Tom Chapman noted B.C.’s wild sheep population has plummeted from an estimated 2.5 million in 1900 to about 13,000 California and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep today.
“I support the farming industry, but, really, we have an endangered species here and we have to make changes,” he said.
RDOS staff have been working with the two provincial ministries, the Penticton Indian band and other organizations since August 2005 to amend the animal control bylaw.
© Sunday, November 19, 2006Copyright PentictonHerald.ca
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