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Interim Bighorn Policy Adopted

Thursday, February 14, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted an interim strategy on bighorn sheep to ensure separation from domestic sheep in Idaho.

The strategy would identify and establish buffer zones between wild and domestic sheep to reduce interaction and the potential for transmitting disease.

The commissioners approved the strategy during a regular weekly legislative update by telephone conference.

A working group convened at the request of Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter had not yet agreed on an interim strategy by the governor's February 15 deadline. Idaho Fish and Game, in consultation with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, developed its own interim strategy to serve until the working group develops a longer-term recommendation over the next few months. It will meet again in March.

The interim strategy is consistent with existing policy and law and with Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies guidelines for the separation of wild and domestic sheep, Fish and Game Wildlife Bureau Chief Jim Unsworth told the commissioners.

It provides a mechanism for the Department of Agriculture and livestock producers to work with Fish and Game to prevent conflicts, and it could be implemented in some places before livestock owners turn out their sheep this spring while the working group continues working on a long-term policy, Unsworth said.

Unsworth is a co-chairman of the governor's working group.

"I'm encouraged that this discussion is moving away from an emotional approach to a more reasoned approach," Fish and Game Director Cal Groen said at the close of the commission telephone conference Thursday morning. The approved strategy does not argue about disease or how it might be spread, instead it focuses simply on separating wild bighorn sheep from domestic sheep.

The plan would establish buffer zones that would be determined individually and would take into account bighorn sheep habitat, natural barriers and movement of wild as well as domestic sheep. The zones also would take into account existing and proposed artificial barriers and domestic sheep herding practices.

The interim policy also would encourage state and federal land managers to work with Fish and Game and Agriculture in cooperation with permittees to identify alternative grazing allotments.

Removing sheep, wild and domestic, that stray into the buffers would involve hazing, capture or killing. Bighorns that stray into and mingle with domestic sheep would be removed in accordance with existing Fish and Game protocol.