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goat packing in the wind rivers

1618 Views 5 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  TDG-Farms
Hey, I got an e.mail from Jewel Dirks about how some of the goat packers in Wyoming have decided that diseases are transmittable to the bighorns and goat packers should stay out of the areas that bighorns are in. Did other folks get that e.mail ? Is this news, based on some new information, or is this an opinion based on the same info and research we reviewed at the rendy last summer?

I'm not planning on going back to the Winds in the near future, but I would think several people on this forum would like to know about any new research, rules, advisories, or rumors before summer plans are being made.

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This letter regarding the Wind River Big Horn Sheep seemed to be a heart felt deep belief that goats could pose a threat. It is posted on the Yahoo packgoat thread. The author admitted that the opinon expressed was from information gathered through conversations with trusted experts. I don't think she introduced any new evidence but nicely summerized current information. She noted the risk to big horns is remote but not impossible, and if it happened it could be devastating to the big horn herd. I thought it was well written and worth reading.
Re-Posted from the list with permission from Jewel Dirks.

My dear fellow goat packers: Evidence is indicating that domestic goats do indeed pose a fatal threat to Big Horn Sheep. As a goat packer who has packed almost exclusively in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness Area in the northern Wind River Mountains of Wyoming since 1994, I now am voluntarily no longer packing with my goats in that area. I encourage you all to do the same. I no longer can endorse the use of pack goats in areas occupied by Big Horn Sheep. Several factors contribute to this difficult decision. 1. The increased incidence of grizzly bears in this area, posing the likelihood of a disrupted camp and loose pack goats (which has happened), 2. The knowledge that nose-to-nose contact is possible between domestic goats and Big Horn Sheep (which has been documented), 3. The fatal vulnerability of Big Horn sheep to even common diseases such as pink eye, and finally, 4. The current extreme stressed state of the Big Horn sheep, making them even more vulnerable to domestic diseases. The likelihood of a diseased, loose pack goat having nose-to-nose contact with a Big Horn sheep is remote. Yet the possibility of that happening does exist, and if it were to happen, we would lose the Big Horn sheep. I consider myself a very responsible goat packer, and I pack with few animals; and even I cannot guarantee that my goats would not cause the demise of our Big Horn sheep herds. I am not willing to take that risk. Currently in the area there is only a forest service recommendation for keeping pack goats under owner control. However, our Wyoming wildlife biologist, Joe Harper, recently visited our county commissioners, and brought up the need for regulating that no pack goats be allowed north of Horse Ridge. For three years I’ve actively fought this, and after the meeting I contacted John Mionczynski to talk about the current research. I doubt that any of us don’t know of John Mionczynski. He has a wealth of knowledge of the Big Horn Sheep from his many years of following them as a forest service biologist in that very area in question. Ironically, he is also the individual who has been instrumental in starting the pack goat business, being the original owner of the Wind River Pack Goats. Further, he and I alone have been the two individuals who have had the most at stake in goat packing this particular area. This is home ground for both of us. I live about 45 minutes from the trailhead, and had goat packed there in all seasons. John told me of the research that has just come out in the last two months. “Although this is not what is going on with our Big Horn Sheep,†he emphasized, he did recommend not to allow domestic goats (including pack goats, his own among them) in that area. It appears that this new evidence indicates that there is an air-borne bacteria that can be contracted by domestic goats from sheep. The disease does not harm domestic goats or sheep, but it is fatal to Big Horn Sheep, having no evolved immune system to handle it. Horribly enough, the bacteria can be spread easily and through the air. John gave the example of a truck with pack goats parked for gas in Dubois, and the bacteria from an adjacent truck that had come from a farm with sheep could be picked up by the goats, merely from the close (!) proximity of the two vehicles. We then spoke about how the more likely scenario would be that a truck of pack goats could park beside a rancher’s truck at the trailhead. The pack goats could be declared healthy from a vet visit an hour before, and become “typhoid Mary’s†at the trailhead. John then explained that the necessary distance between the two animalsâ€"infected goat and Big Horn Sheepâ€"is unknown, bringing in the second variable: loose pack goats. If a pack goat is lost in the mountains, there is a chance (“maybe less than 1%†he said) of contact between the goat and a Big Horn Sheep. But, he added, he has had bears in his camp, he has had his own goats run off from camp, and he has seen a curious goat-Big Horn Sheep nose to nose greeting in his own field work. The contact would be possible, and fatal to the Big Horn Sheep herd. As he spoke, it became immediately clear to me that pack goats do indeed pose a risk to the survival of Big Horn Sheep. I don’t know if my goats carry these bacteria. I have never lost a goat in the mountains. But I do know that it is certainly possible for my goats to carry the disease, and worse, I do know of 4 separate instances of other goat packers losing their goats. They have all been found, but in one case, it was several weeks before they were locatedâ€"and that was on Horse Ridge (!). If these lost pack goats had been carrying the disease, and if they had wandered into a Big Horn Sheep herd and even tried unsuccessfully to join, the damage would already have been done, and our entire Big Horn population could have been wiped out within a month. It was immediately, and heart-wrenchingly evident that I must no longer pack in any area that has Big Horn Sheep. The Bomber Basin area is one of the most spectacular places in the world, and it is extremely painful to think of no longer being able to visit those areas that are so personally meaningful to me. As John said, “I imagined myself as an old man, always being able to goat pack in Bomber Basin, and I now know that’s no longer possible.†It is ironic that the pack animal in our national forests that is most ecologically friendly (and probably with the most environmentally aware owners!) poses the fatal threat to Big Horn sheep. Because these two animals share such a common biological makeup, the threat exists where it doesn’t between horses or llamas. In my conversations with Charlie Jennings, I understand that there is some disbelief as to the “airborne†nature of the disease. That is perhaps a moot point, in that a diseased pack goat could be enfolded into a Big Horn sheep herd where nose-to-nose contact would be made. Similarly, the equally destructive pink eye would be possible. Charlie indicated that he wants to keep an ongoing conversation with the forest service, searching for alternatives. One of Charlie’s suggestions is to create a “corridor for strict passage but no camping†or a possible moratorium on times when the Big Horn sheep are in the area. I’m not optimistic about this option in that I have seen Big Horn sheep on both sides of the Glacier Trail in the summer monthsâ€"that the human trail and Big Horn sheep passages overlap each other for several miles. The other suggestion Charlie has at this point is to have GPS collars (possibly for rent?), so that lost pack goats could be quickly located. I don’t have any experience with GPS units, other than the SPOT locater, so I’m unsure about the ability of a GPS to pinpoint a lost animal’s whereabouts. And I always have hopes for vaccinations. I do appreciate the efforts to have a full conversation between goat packers and the forest service and Big Horn sheep advocates. In my years of writing, I didn’t have any response until Joe Harper came into the post. Joe has been extraordinary in reaching out to me and providing scientific information. He is easy to speak with, and has goat packing experience himself. Having been on both sides of this, I now see how desperate and unfounded my arguments were for continuing goat packing in the area. I also have a bitter taste in my mouth from trying to start a conversation with the Big Horn sheep advocates in Dubois, and have experienced firsthand the rudeness and arrogance of environmentalists. I have always considered myself a steward of the land and a staunch conservationist, but now I see how destructive personal biases can be on both sides. Finally, and I state this with deep respect, it would be a sad reflection on the North American Pack Goat Association if it were to continue to advocate for goat packing in an area where the two local, home ground goat packers strongly advise against it. I cannot think of a biologist who is more knowledgeable and professional about either Big Horn Sheep or pack goats than John. And I cannot imagine anyone loving this area more than I do. As visitors to our community and wild lands, please respect this. Once I realized how easily diseases can be transferred from goat to Big Horn sheep, coupled with the incidence of grizzly bear encounters and the increased likelihood of stray pack goats, my decision was obvious and quick. The impact on my life, however, will be felt forever. Bomber Canyon is the most remarkable place in the world, and I will no longer be able to visit places I’ve considered my true home for all my life. I have to let go of my goal to paint Golden Lake. I shall miss those concave cliffs, that place where the creek runs for 200 yards over smooth glacial rock, my secret fishing spots, and the thick green moss in the wet woods beneath Bomber Falls where I last sat with my mother. Joe Harper, Shoshone National Forest Wildlife Biologist, can be reached at 808 Meadow Lane, Cody, WY 82414, 307/578-5133. His concern for goat packers is heartfelt. I would prefer being reached by ground mail rather than email at: 90 Two Mile Road, Riverton, WY 82501, 307/857-5906. I appreciate the time it took to read this lengthy letter. Sincerely, Jewel Dirks
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This is Charlie Jennings, Land Use Committee Chair for NAPgA.

I appreciate Jewel's concern for the Bighorn Sheep. I personally want them to thrive in their environment and certainly do not wish to inflict any diseases on them by way of domestic goats that would cause their demise.

However...I have not found any evidence that indicates that Mannheimia Haemolytica is an airborne disease. If you google Journal of Wildlife Diseases and type in Dr. Foreyt in the search bar, you will find the studies on Domestic Sheep, Goats and Bighorn Sheep, the latest study done in 2010. As far as we are concerned, this latest study reveals that as the domestic sheep were penned up for a month, 10 meters away from the Bighorn Sheep, "NO CLINICAL SIGNS OF PNEUMONIA WERE OBSERVED IN THE BIGHORN SHEEP DURING THAT PERIOD". (Read the abstract).

I agree that commingling of sheep/goats may result in passing fatal diseases to the Bighorn Sheep, even fence line contact, but again, I am not aware of any evidence that suggests airborne disease transmission.

With that being the case, the only threat that I personally see in continuing to goat pack in the Northern Winds is if goats are lost in the middle of the night and commingle with the Bighorn Sheep. My proposed solution to the Forest Service is that we enforce the use of GPS Collars when goat packers are issued a stock permit in the core Bighorn Sheep habitat areas. These are not cheap by any means, the Garmin model retails for $599.00, I can buy them wholesale for around $478 with a receiver. Have one or two collars per herd, since the herd typically stays together, and collar the alpha goat before bedtime. Then, if they get spooked in the night and run off, or they end up browsing away from camp, you'll know their exact location. I am thinking that a few units of these can be purchased and then rented out on a weekly basis to goatpackers, in order to prevent purchase by individuals.

Quite frankly, whenever mine have gotten spooked, I am more afraid of a goat stampede than of them running away from me. But I suppose it could happen.

This is my own personal opinion, but I am very interested in finding ways to co-exist with all wildlife in the Northern Winds, and do not feel it is necessary to ban pack goats from that region. Brush goats and domestic sheep, yes, but pack goats that are highlined at night? I don't think it is necessary.
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I think she forgets who she interviewed, because John himself took goats up with him and was in very close proximity to the wild sheep. Plus I believe that the results from the 2010 study are conclusive and accurate, simply from a animal owner and trainers perspective. Plus, green goat packers shouldn't be taking green animals up in the country anyway without a lead. Duh.
I totally appreciate the concern expressed by these people. And although I to dont believe in the "an air-borne bacteria" excuse, I dont dismiss it either. Something that most people dont know is CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis) can also be air-borne. A goat or sheep that has CL in the lungs can actually cough and spread it that way. So, I think before someone posts "facts" on a subject that doesnt actually have any, should post it more as a discussion then a how to.
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