Sheep Die-Off Prompts Hunting District Closure
Montana's Fish & Wildlife Commission today closed a bighorn sheep hunting district near Gardiner due to an ongoing disease-related die-off.
The emergency action came in response to a pneumonia die-off that began late last year in bighorn sheep hunting district 305, near Gardiner. So far at least 34 sheep from the native herd have died.
Wildlife biologists who conducted an aerial survey of the area Sunday counted 55 bighorn sheep—found another dead animal and a number of sick ones—where 89 healthy sheep were counted last year.
"The disease event is not over yet," said Karen Loveless, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' wildlife biologist in Livingston.
Nearly 40 percent of the herd in the Gardiner and Cinnabar areas, and 40 percent or more of the mature rams, have died.
Commissioners voted unanimously via today's conference call to close the 2015 bighorn sheep season in hunting district 305 to further protect the herd and to preclude hunters from applying for the hunting district's lone permit.
Commission Chair Dan Vermillion said the herd is important to hunters and others who have become accustomed to watching the animals' mating rituals near Yellowstone National Park during late November's bighorn sheep rutting season.
Prior to this emergency closure, FWP had offered one legal ram license in hunting district 305. So far about 10 people have already applied online for the license. Those applicants, and others who might apply, will be offered the opportunity to apply elsewhere or be given a refund. Last year about 100 hunters applied for the district's license.
Baring another disease outbreak, or other unforeseen events, hunting district 305 would reopen to hunting when the population recovers, officials said. The 2015 hunting season in hunting district 305 would have run Sept. 5-14 for archery and Sept. 15-Oct. 31 for the general season.
The deadline to apply for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison permits is May 1.