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Nez Perce Tribe to use grant for bighorn study

Published: Sunday, May 29 2011 11:57 p.m. MDT

LEWISTON, Idaho — Grant money recently received by the Nez Perce Tribe will be used to place radio collars on bighorn sheep along the Salmon River near Riggins as part of an effort to find out why so few lambs survive into adulthood, an official said.

Keith Lawrence, director of the tribe's wildlife program, said the tribe learned Wednesday it had been awarded a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We need to get more collars on ewes and find out where their lambing pastures are and find lambs that are dying and document what they are dying from," Lawrence told the Lewiston Tribune.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management could use information from the study to make decisions about domestic sheep grazing allotments in the area, including the Allison-Berg and Partridge Creek allotments upstream of Riggins.

"Both the BLM and the Nez Perce Forest still have to make long-term decisions on those allotments and the information we have developed is going to be invaluable," Lawrence said.

The number of Idaho bighorns has dwindled by half since 1990 to about 3,500 after several mass die-offs. Wildlife managers believe bighorns can catch diseases such as pneumonia when they come into contact with domestic sheep.

The Payette National Forest last year approved a plan reducing domestic sheep grazing areas by about 70 percent, a result the tribe said was based partly on previous bighorn studies done by the tribe that offered insights into how bighorn sheep were using the Salmon River Canyon.

"It's not experimental," Lawrence said. "It's a direct management application kind of research program."

He said the pattern of lambs dying in the Salmon River herds is similar to that seen in Hells Canyon. He said to find out if the cause is the same, researchers need to quickly find lambs when they die to determine the cause of death.

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