Domestic sheep are beginning their annual migration into the high country, and ranchers and public land officials are providing tips to people using the trails on how to react to the large bands of sheep and their guard dogs.
The first bands have been moving through the Croy Canyon area near Hailey, and traveling north via the Wood River Trail. More sheep will be moving into the Sawtooth National Forest in the coming weeks. All told, about 14,000 sheep will pass through the valley and side draws where hikers, bikers, joggers, dog-walkers and horseback riders go for recreation.
The Forest Service and BLM have been working with the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, a state agency whose mission is to disseminate information about the economic and environmental aspects of grazing and to promote public support for Idaho’s livestock industry. They have developed a program called Care and Share, which encourages people to care for public lands and share them respectfully with others. When the sheep are moving through heavily used recreation areas, Forest Service and BLM officials put up Care/Share signs at trailheads, indicating the time when the sheep will be grazing in the area and reminding recreationists about leashing dogs and walking bikes.
People are asked to keep their dogs on leash when they encounter domestic sheep, and mountain bikers should dismount and walk through sheep herds to avoid antagonizing great Pyrenees guard dogs.
If you get off your bike and talk to the dogs, they’ll leave you alone, says Carey rancher John Peavey. But don’t try to outrun them on your bike, he says, because they’ll probably try to chase you.
Guard dogs think mountain bikes are an animal, and they’re trained to protect the sheep, added Bill Whitaker, range conservationist for the Ketchum Ranger District. It’s important to identify yourself to a dog that you’re human. It helps to talk to the dogs and let them know everything is OK and that you are not a threat to the sheep, Whitaker and Peavey said.
Recreationists can find out where sheep are grazing in the Wood River Valley before they hit the trails by checking on the Blaine County Recreation District summer trails website. The site shows sheep icons with specific dates for when the sheep are grazing next to particular trails.
The Sawtooth National Forest also provides a trail report update in the summer on its website so forest users can find out where they are likely to encounter domestic sheep. It also lists the 2013 annual operating instructions for various allotments.
John Kurtz, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM’s Shoshone Field Office, said the sheep are in areas for only a small amount of time, so anyone who checks the website can avoid them.
If recreationists want to avoid running into sheep, Whitaker said, trails in Adams Gulch near Ketchum are normally a good place to go because the animals don’t stay there for long, usually just a day or two.
At the end of the summer, the sheep travel back to the low country through Main Street in Ketchum for the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, held in early October.
Some other reminders:
l Be sure to close gates after you pass through.
l 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 travel into the high country.