State to kill some bighorn sheep ... to save larger herd

By Steve Kiggins

Q13 FOX News reporter

NACHES, Wash. -- A fast-spreading pneumonia is threatening several herds of bighorn sheep in Yakima County.  As a result, the state plans to kill off some of the animals to save others.

A highway separates 200 bigh0rn sheep in the Cleman herd from the 50 survivors in the Titon herd. The state may have to kill off what's left of the Titon herd as a precaution so that they don't infect the Clemans.

"We are hopeful this herd will manage to stay healthy," said Ted Clausing, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The lambs are coming in the next month or two."

But state officials said they worry that pneumonia found in the neighboring Tieton herd could wipe out both, if officials don't step in.

"It's quite a dramatic episode when these sheep herds get pneumonia, we can see dramatic die-offs -- maybe half the herd, a quarter of the herd, maybe even more," Clausing said. "And what's worse is, in the following spring, the remaining ewes that survive will either not give birth to lambs at all or those lambs will be so weak they won't survive."

Animals in the Cleman herd were tested in January and were clear of pneumonia. But the disease that likely comes from domesticated goats and sheep could easily kill off hundreds of bighorn.

"Because of the proximity of these two herds, that animals from this healthy herd could easily cross over -- and if they do and come in contact with a very infectious animal, they could wind up bringing the disease back," Clausing said.

So the state plans to eliminate the threat next door -- to save the healthy (Cleman herd) animals on the hill.

Euthanasia begins within the week; the state plans to put down about 50 sheep.