Yakima Canyon bighorn sheep testing operation begins to identify, remove pneumonia carriers

Photo Credit: Courtesy of WDFW

by WA Department of Fish & Wildlife Staff

YAKIMA– The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today the department will begin two rounds of aerial bighorn sheep captures through February in an effort to control the Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (Movi) disease currently affecting the Yakima Canyon herd.

For more than a decade the pathogen, a type of pneumonia that negatively affects lamb survival, has continued to persist in the herd, likely due to asymptomatic carriers. Similar situations in the past have required entire herds to be removed from the landscape in order to avoid the risk of spread to other herds.

“The upcoming management trial is an experiment many years in the making,” said Mike Livingston, WDFW Region 3 Director. “We’re trying a “test and remove” process that has been successful in other western states but is still fairly new in Washington. We’re working closely with partners in Idaho, Oregon, and the Wild Sheep Foundation to learn from this situation and if the approach could help clear pneumonia from other herds.”

The goal is to test and collar as many of the herd’s 100 adult sheep as possible. This process, which will help biologists to better understand the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, will be followed by efforts designed to allow the herd to become healthier by removing the sheep that are identified carriers.

WDFW is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting, and perpetuating fish, wildlife, and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.

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