Pneumonia Found in Fourth Montana Bighorn Sheep Herd

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – State wildlife officials have confirmed an outbreak of pneumonia in a fourth herd of bighorn sheep in west-central Montana.

The latest occurrence was found in the Upper Rock Creek herd, which had about 340 sheep in May, FWP biologist Ray Vinkey said Monday.

Vinkey collected three sheep Saturday afternoon and confirmed the pneumonia diagnosis. Once bighorns contract pneumonia, they usually die within a few weeks.

Other recent pneumonia outbreaks affected bighorn sheep in the East Fork Bitterroot late last year and the Bonner area and Lower Rock Creek in January.

Vinkey said the agency plans to cull sick sheep from the Upper Rock Creek herd in an effort to prevent the spread of the respiratory disease.

“Upper Rock Creek looks like a place where we can begin as we did in the East Fork,” Vinkey said. “We are gearing up to cull sick sheep from this population. Once we get started we’ll be in a better position to judge whether we can hope to remove all the sick animals, or whether the disease is too far advanced to get ahead of it.”

A survey of the East Fork range last week found at least 71 healthy-looking sheep and none that appeared sick. FWP had killed 76 diseased or exposed sheep earlier.

Removal efforts are winding down in the Bonner area, where 88 diseased sheep have been taken since Jan. 5. FWP is allowing the disease to run its course in the Lower Rock Creek area due to the treacherous terrain.

FWP plans to collect at least 10 to 20 diseased sheep in Upper Rock Creek to identify the disease organism and to see if the pneumonia outbreaks might be related.

The first reports of all four pneumonia outbreaks came to FWP from citizens, said Vivaca Crowser, regional information manager.

“These reports from the public give us the chance of detecting the disease in its early stages, and we need the public’s help to alert us to any possible outbreaks in other herds,” she said.