Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Domestic sheep return to local ranges

Recreationists should be prepared for possible run-ins with grazing bands

Express Staff Writer

Each spring in the Wood River Valley, large bands of domestic sheep make annual migrations into high-country pastures in the Smoky, Pioneer and Boulder mountain ranges.

This summer, the first bands are expected to move into Greenhorn Gulch north of this week, a news release from the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission states. Additional sheep will be moving north of Hailey through the valley on their way to the Sawtooth National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area later in mid-June.

Local recreationists should be aware of their presence and be prepared for possible interactions on trails, the news release states.

On public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, recreationists might encounter sheep in the next few weeks on the new Hidden Valley and Bull Dog trails, adjacent to Bullion Gulch. All told, about 14,000 domestic sheep will be moving through the valley and side draws this summer where hikers, bikers, joggers and dog-walkers go for recreation.

Sheep ranchers and officials with the commission, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are asking recreationists to keep their dogs on leash when they encounter domestic sheep to avoid confrontations with the sheep. They say mountain bikers should dismount and walk through sheep herds to avoid antagonizing Great Pyrenees guard dogs.

Over the years, some mountain bikers have reported run-ins with territorial guard dogs while riding on backcountry trails. The changes brought about by the mixing of old and new uses of local public lands can be alarming for the recreationist confronted by barking guard dogs.


"If you get off your bike and talk to the dogs, they'll leave you alone," Carey sheep rancher John Peavey stated in the news release. "But don't try to outrun them on your bike. They'll probably try to chase you."

According to Bill Whitaker, range conservationist for the Sawtooth's Ketchum Ranger District, the guard dogs think mountain bikes are an animal, and they're trained to protect the sheep.

"It's important to identify yourself to a dog that you're human," he said.

Here are some other tips from the Rangeland Resource Commission:

· Be sure to close gates after you pass through.

· If you see horses or mules coming up the trail, pull off to the side of the trail and let the pack stock travel through. Horses and mules can spook easily when confronted by strangers. Peruvian herders travel by mule and horseback with the sheep as they move into the high country.

Jason Kauffman:

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