JEROME — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has lethally removed the South Hills’ last four bighorn sheep.
Fish and Game said the two ewes and two young rams likely represented the last remnants of a reintroduction effort that took place between 1986 and 1993.
Fifty bighorn sheep were released in the South Hills’ Unit 54 during that time period, but the population struggled from the outset. Bighorns in the Big Cottonwood area of the South Hills died off, and, even though more sheep were introduced, the herd continued to have difficulty maintaining healthy numbers.
By 2010, Fish and Game estimated the South Hills was home to 15 bighorns, and due to the proximity of domestic sheep and goat herds, the department determined new reintroductions posed a disease risk. Domestic goat and sheep herds can spread respiratory diseases to new bighorns. The population declined further in the 2010s, falling to an estimated 10 in 2017.
Fish and Game said in a Wednesday press release that lethally removing the remaining bighorns was necessary in order to avoid spreading disease. Wildlife managers became increasingly concerned that the South Hills population could travel outside of the South Hills and infect healthy bighorn sheep herds in other areas, causing die-offs.
In an effort to avoid the spread of disease, Fish and Game issued bighorn sheep hunting tags for aging rams in 2017 and 2018.
Fish and Game collected biological samples from the final four bighorns after putting them down. The meat from the four animals was processed and sent to local food banks.