Current Edition

current edition

Lander – “Statements used to describe pneumonia in domestic lambs parallel what is seen in Bighorn sheep lambs,” Washington State University Researcher Maggie Highland commented during the Nov. 29 meeting of the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep/Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group.

Highland continued, “An Iowa State University dissertation from the later 1990’s said, “The etiology of pneumonia in lambs is considered to be extremely complex as it relates to management practices and the disease.”

Highland added that, though the dissertation is over a decade old, the assertion still applies to both domestic sheep and Bighorn sheep, in general.

Disease foundations

Highland noted that there are three components to consider when looking at infectious diseases – the bugs, the beast and the burden.

“The bugs are present, and they are what introduces the disease,” she explained. “Then there’s the beast, whether they be sheep or goats, wild or domestic.”

Finally the burden is defined as the stressor, or any environmental situation that the animal perceives as being stressful enough to create a physiological change in the body as a response, either as a danger or as an excitement of some sort.

“I think that the research that is being done is trying to bring all these components together, rather than saying it’s just the bug,” Highland said.

Delving into the bug

While there are other factors that create disease, Highland noted that the bug often implicated in pneumonia in sheep, both domestic and wild, is Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae.

“I consider M. ovipneumoniae to be the most epidemiologically sound agent, and it’s also the agent of pneumonic disease in domestic sheep and goats,” Highland explained. “It is also believed to be species-specific, meaning it is only in members of the sub-family Capernaum, or goats and sheep.”

The bacterium has been discovered to be highly associated with the complex phenomenon of Bighorn sheep pneumonia, and Highland added, “It is often the predisposing factor that can set up sheep for more virulent or more pathogenic disease-causing problems, which are the secondary bacteria.”

Research

In light of the research efforts that have already been pursued, Highland noted that her lab has received funding for the next five-year budget cycle to identify host factors and the immuno-pathogenesis of pneumonia in Bighorn and domestic sheep.

“We’re looking at host genetics and shedding of M. ovipneumoniae, which includes how each species, on a cellular and molecular level, responds to infections,” Highland said. “We will look at both the innate and adapted response to infection.”

She continued that her research team has focused on domestic sheep and has been collecting samples for several years now.

“We’re also looking at the innate and adaptive immune factors dealing with susceptibility,” Highland added. “The last part of our research is looking at vaccine development against M. ovipneumoniae.

Confusing samples

“I talk about confirmed positives,” Highland said. “The reason I say this is because of the difficulty in testing samples and the techniques we use.”

Highland noted that late last year she believed she had identified M. ovipneumoniae in white-tailed deer. However, the current analysis technique amplifies bacteria that is similar to M. ovipneumoniae but is not a Mycoplasma.

“It’s another Mycoplasma that has not been identified,” she explained. “I have found it in multiple goats. I also tested 98 elk, and of those, 87 were positive for this organism.”

She further emphasized that they must be very careful to make sure that a positive test is a true positive, not a similar organism.

Continued efforts

“The more minds that work together from different angles, the better,” Highland concluded. “As it pertains to Bighorn sheep conservation, we’re legally bound to collaborate or interact with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as far as it pertains to management of Bighorn sheep in the sense of disease and disease transmission.”

She added, “When we have multiple people working different angle and good communications, we can reach out to one another to find the answers we’re looking for.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lander – The Dec. 8 meeting of the Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group heard a presentation on the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region Four’s Risk of Contact Assessment, a document that has been highly anticipated by the sheep industry.

“The crux of the meeting was Region Four’s presentation on their risk of contact assessment,” said Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Director Doug Miyamoto. “This is something we have been waiting on for a long time.”

Risk of contact

The USFS Risk of Contact Assessment for Region Four utilized observational and radio-collar data to analyze how Bighorn sheep move across the landscape as compared to domestic sheep allotments. The Risk of Contact Assessment provides coefficients describing the frequency of Bighorn sheep on domestic sheep allotments.

“It gives us an indication graphically about what USFS is concerned about, which is helpful,” said Miyamoto.

However, WDA Natural Resources Division Manager Chris Wichmann commented, “This is just a starting point. It doesn’t include anything about mitigation of risks or other variables that play into the actual risk of transmission.”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Biologist Doug McWhirter echoed Wichmann’s point.

“The Risk of Contact Assessment is just the first step,” McWhirter said. “There are factors in each allotment that aren’t captured by these numbers, so identifying those will be next.”

Developing the Risk of Contact Assessment was a big undertaking for USFS, and McWhirter noted, “The USFS has been involved in the Statewide Bighorn Sheep-Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group from the beginning, and I’m very optimistic that we will come out on the other side of this Risk of Contact Assessment with the state of Wyoming and the interaction group working even more closely with the USFS, which is huge.”

What it means

“From the perspective of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, I don’t believe that this will change our focus,” McWhirter commented. “We are trying to work closely with the USFS to follow the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Plan together.”

Miyamoto added, “Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Director Jim Magagna made an important point when he said this model does not show, contrary to its title, risk of contact between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep.”

Rather, the model shows the likelihood that a Bighorn sheep might set foot on a domestic sheep allotment.

“For example, a coefficient of 0.3 means a Bighorn sheep will set foot on an allotment three times in a decade,” Miyamoto added. “We had quite a good discussion, and the USFS didn’t refute that this is what the model does.”

Similar telemetry hasn’t been done to track domestic sheep, he said, also noting that information based on pathogens present in populations isn’t included.

Allotment maps

In addition to the Risk of Contact Assessment, USFS also distributed vacant allotment maps.

“These maps show what areas are available, which are closed and also where forage reserves that could be considered as mitigation are located,” Wichmann said.

Miyamoto added, “We will be able to utilize these allotment maps for more than alternative review of domestic sheep allotments, as well as for reasons like natural disasters, fire and flood.”

Looking forward

The working group will continue its efforts to address interaction between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep on grazing allotments around Wyoming, and there are several items that they will likely focus on.

“The process to identify factors that aren’t captured in the Risk of Contact Assessment is likely the next thing that will start happening,” McWhirter explained. “That information will come from permittees, agencies and other non-governmental organizations.”

Further, McWhirter noted that identification of areas to address risk and development of mitigation measures where necessary will also likely be forthcoming.

“Overall, I was encouraged that there is not a rush from USFS to propose administrative changes,” he continued. “The Wyoming Plan is built around a key tenant that we aren’t going to take action under a sense of urgency or duress, and what we heard is that USFS is taking a very methodical approach that involves all of these stakeholders working collaboratively.”

Miyamoto also noted that the working group will continue to review the latest science and address the research needs that arise related to Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep interaction.

Working together

“This is a really contentious issue West-wide,” said McWhirter. “We have a largely positive working relationship between everyone in the group, but we have been meeting for a long time to build those relationships. I think that is paying off.”

The Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group has been meeting for 15 years to address the issues affecting both wildlife and the livestock industry.

He added, “We are head and shoulders above much of the West as far as working together on this issue, and I believe that will continue.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lander – The Dec. 8 meeting of the Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group heard a presentation on the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region Four’s Risk of Contact Assessment, a document that has been highly anticipated by the sheep industry.

“The crux of the meeting was Region Four’s presentation on their risk of contact assessment,” said Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Director Doug Miyamoto. “This is something we have been waiting on for a long time.”

Risk of contact

The USFS Risk of Contact Assessment for Region Four utilized observational and radio-collar data to analyze how Bighorn sheep move across the landscape as compared to domestic sheep allotments. The Risk of Contact Assessment provides coefficients describing the frequency of Bighorn sheep on domestic sheep allotments.

“It gives us an indication graphically about what USFS is concerned about, which is helpful,” said Miyamoto.

However, WDA Natural Resources Division Manager Chris Wichmann commented, “This is just a starting point. It doesn’t include anything about mitigation of risks or other variables that play into the actual risk of transmission.”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Biologist Doug McWhirter echoed Wichmann’s point.

“The Risk of Contact Assessment is just the first step,” McWhirter said. “There are factors in each allotment that aren’t captured by these numbers, so identifying those will be next.”

Developing the Risk of Contact Assessment was a big undertaking for USFS, and McWhirter noted, “The USFS has been involved in the Statewide Bighorn Sheep-Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group from the beginning, and I’m very optimistic that we will come out on the other side of this Risk of Contact Assessment with the state of Wyoming and the interaction group working even more closely with the USFS, which is huge.”

What it means

“From the perspective of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, I don’t believe that this will change our focus,” McWhirter commented. “We are trying to work closely with the USFS to follow the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Plan together.”

Miyamoto added, “Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Director Jim Magagna made an important point when he said this model does not show, contrary to its title, risk of contact between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep.”

Rather, the model shows the likelihood that a Bighorn sheep might set foot on a domestic sheep allotment.

“For example, a coefficient of 0.3 means a Bighorn sheep will set foot on an allotment three times in a decade,” Miyamoto added. “We had quite a good discussion, and the USFS didn’t refute that this is what the model does.”

Similar telemetry hasn’t been done to track domestic sheep, he said, also noting that information based on pathogens present in populations isn’t included.

Allotment maps

In addition to the Risk of Contact Assessment, USFS also distributed vacant allotment maps.

“These maps show what areas are available, which are closed and also where forage reserves that could be considered as mitigation are located,” Wichmann said.

Miyamoto added, “We will be able to utilize these allotment maps for more than alternative review of domestic sheep allotments, as well as for reasons like natural disasters, fire and flood.”

Looking forward

The working group will continue its efforts to address interaction between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep on grazing allotments around Wyoming, and there are several items that they will likely focus on.

“The process to identify factors that aren’t captured in the Risk of Contact Assessment is likely the next thing that will start happening,” McWhirter explained. “That information will come from permittees, agencies and other non-governmental organizations.”

Further, McWhirter noted that identification of areas to address risk and development of mitigation measures where necessary will also likely be forthcoming.

“Overall, I was encouraged that there is not a rush from USFS to propose administrative changes,” he continued. “The Wyoming Plan is built around a key tenant that we aren’t going to take action under a sense of urgency or duress, and what we heard is that USFS is taking a very methodical approach that involves all of these stakeholders working collaboratively.”

Miyamoto also noted that the working group will continue to review the latest science and address the research needs that arise related to Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep interaction.

Working together

“This is a really contentious issue West-wide,” said McWhirter. “We have a largely positive working relationship between everyone in the group, but we have been meeting for a long time to build those relationships. I think that is paying off.”

The Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group has been meeting for 15 years to address the issues affecting both wildlife and the livestock industry.

He added, “We are head and shoulders above much of the West as far as working together on this issue, and I believe that will continue.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..