Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sheep season?s upon us

Groups hope to facilitate safe movement for people and sheep


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

A huge herd of sheep makes its way through Croy Canyon outside of Hailey last year, on its way to greener pastures. Photo by Willy Cook

Spring draws people to the hills for encounters with nature and for athletic challenges. Often, the outings result in unanticipated meetings with thousands of animals migrating on the same hilly trails and bike paths used by recreationists.

The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, recreation groups and individuals are working together on the "Care and Share" campaign to ensure contact between humans, sheep—and their guard dogs—is trouble-free.

Sheepherders move bands northward in June through the Wood River Valley onto grazing lands in the Sawtooth National Forest, then make the return trip to lower lands in the fall.

"Some people want to see the sheep, some people want to go the other way," said Gretchen Hyde, the commission's executive director.

Through radio, billboards and periodicals, the groups are hoping to inform residents of sheep movement, why they're here and what to do if you come into contact with them.

"Sheep come through in a pretty short period of time," Hyde said. But, "there're more guard dogs because there're more predator issues. There have been some huge losses."

Pet dogs are often seen by guard dogs as predators of sheep. When guard dogs encounter pet dogs, they may try to fend off the perceived threat.

"If you have your pet with you, it is considered another carnivore," Hyde said.

Pet owners are advised to keep their animals under control when in the presence of sheep and guard dogs.

Some pets have been chased into traffic on busy state Highway 75.

That's what happened to Chris Koch's dog last fall. Since then, he's been trying to educate the public on living in harmony with the sheep bands.

"Nobody is trying to put anybody out of business," said Koch, of Bellevue. "Sheep have been around since before Sun Valley Co. and before the railroad. If it weren't for sheep, none of us would be here. We're all just trying to get the public awareness out there."

If you encounter sheep or cattle on a road or trail, make them aware of your presence and move slowly by without startling them, the commission advises.

"It's education," Hyde said. "If people have knowledge, they'll make the right choices."

The Big Wood Backcountry Trails group maintains on their Web site a list of some sheepherders' movements up and down the valley.

Log on to www.bwbt.org/trailnews.htm for information, or contact the Bureau of Land Management office in Shoshone.

Sheep movements can be tracked at www.bwbt.org/trailnews.htm. More information is available at www.idahorange.org/careshare




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