Aldrich Mountain, OR: 1991

Aldrich Mountain (44° 22’ 35.54”N, 119° 27’ 3.03”W) is located in eastern Oregon’s Aldrich Mountains in western Grant County. The mountain is about 40 km (25 mi) west of John Day (Google Earth 2012). Aldrich Mountain primarily lies in the Malheur National Forest with its western slopes stretching into lands that are private, BLM-managed, or owned by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). The western portion of Aldrich bighorn range borders the Ochoco National Forest (Google Earth 2012; USFS 2012). According to the BLM’s 1995 mountain sheep ecosystem management strategy, the Aldrich Mountain bighorn habitat bioregion is 52 percent BLM land, 24 percent other federal land, 15 percent state land, and 9 percent private land (BLM 1995).

Aldrich Mountain, Oregon Map

As of 2012, most of Aldrich Mountain’s bighorn range occurred along the mountain’s steep, barren western slopes on BLM land and ODFW land in the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area (Google Earth 2012; USFS 2012; ODFW 2006). At the time of the Aldrich Mountain die-off, the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area was known as the Murderers Creek Wildlife Area (ODFW 2006).

The USFS analyzed roadless portions of the Aldrich Mountain region as part of a study for potential wilderness designation. In a report, the USFS describes the Aldrich Mountain area’s topography and vegetation:

“The terrain is extremely varied and primarily consists of steep and broken slopes on the west and south, and steep bench slopes to the north. In Smokey, Oliver, and Jackass Creeks the dominant peaks are Aldrich and Little Aldrich Mountains. Elevations range from 6,950 feet below the crest of Aldrich Mountain to less than 4,350 feet on Aldrich Creek.

The Aldrich Mountain area is approximately 40 percent forested. Vegetation on the forested west- and south-facing slopes is predominantly ponderosa pine with Douglas-fir and grand fir understories. The ground cover includes elk sedge, pinegrass, and wheatgrass. The forested areas north of Aldrich Mountain are primarily grand fir, Douglas-fir, western larch, and lodgepole pine, with a ground cover of huckleberry, pinegrass and brome grasses. The highest elevations are occupied by subalpine fir and/or alpine sage and other subalpine shrubs and grasses. The drier or nonforested sites [bighorn habitat] on all aspects are vegetated with juniper, sagebrushes, mountain-mahogany, and some scattered ponderosa pine. Ground cover on these sites includes wheat grasses, fescue, and bluegrass. This area has about 1,300 forested acres that meet the Pacific Northwest Region’s definition of old growth” (USFS 2010, 2).

California bighorns were reintroduced to Aldrich Mountain in 1978 (ODFW 2003). In 1988 and 1989, hundreds of domestic sheep were authorized to graze on a USFS allotment west of Aldrich Mountain (USFS 1988, 1989a). In 1991, a pneumonia outbreak likely caused by domestic sheep reduced the Aldrich Mountain bighorn population by about 70 percent (ODFW 2003). Policy documents related to the Aldrich Mountain wild-domestic sheep situation were Oregon’s 1986 bighorn management plan, a 1984 BLM land and resource management plan, and a 1990 USFS plan (ODFW 1986; BLM 1984; USFS 1990b).

As for bighorn-domestic sheep interaction policies in general, Aldrich Mountain lacked buffers, sheepherder supervision rules, and sheep trailing restrictions (Foster 2012; BLM 1988, 1989a). However, managers considered the presence of domestic sheep before reintroducing wild sheep in 1978, and grazing alteration efforts likely occurred (ODFW 1986; Foster 2012). Based on the research performed for this project, it is unknown if negotiation or education was implemented regarding the bighorn-domestic sheep disease issue. It is also unknown if bighorns near domestic sheep were removed from the wild on Aldrich Mountain. However, agency coordination occurred, and tension was likely. Additionally, it is unknown if managers of the Aldrich Mountain bighorns faced funding difficulties in their efforts to separate them from domestic sheep (Foster 2012). To gain a fuller understanding of these policies and policy absences, it helps to provide background on Aldrich Mountain’s California bighorns before they were affected by disease beginning in 1991.

In 1978, wildlife managers reintroduced California bighorns to Aldrich Mountain with a transplant of 14 animals from southeastern Oregon’s Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. In 1981, the Aldrich bighorn population was augmented with four additional bighorns from Hart Mountain (ODFW 2003). In 1990, about 85 bighorns lived on Aldrich Mountain, but by the late 1980s, they shared their range with hundreds of domestic sheep (USFS 1988, 1989a).

In 1991, the BLM only permitted cattle grazing in the Aldrich Mountain area (Rodgers 2012). However, in the early 1990s, the Ochoco National Forest’s Bearskull-Cottonwood grazing allotment existed within five miles of Aldrich bighorn range (ODFW 2003; Reeves 2012). The allotment was near Black Canyon, which helps explain why ODFW biologist Craig Foster referred to it as the “Black Canyon domestic allotment” as discussed later in this analysis (Reeves 2012; Foster 2012). The Ochoco National Forest’s 1989 Land and Resource Management Plan reveals that 900 domestic sheep were once permitted to graze on that allotment (USFS 1989b). An examination of the 1991 annual operating instructions (AOIs) for the Bearskull-Cottonwood Allotment reveals that 900 domestic sheep could have been authorized to graze on the allotment in 1991, but the only authorized grazing that year was done by 50 cattle. The 1991 allotment users applied for non-use regarding their sheep grazing privileges (USFS 1991).

Steve Gibson (Rangeland Program Manager for the Ochoco National Forest) stated: “According to a very brief review of my records (AOIs) the last time sheep grazed on the allotment was in 1989” (2012). In 1989, 600 domestic sheep were authorized to graze on the allotment from June 16 to September 15 (USFS 1989a). According to the 1989 annual operating instructions: “Livestock numbers for this season will be 600 head of sheep and 80 head of cattle” (USFS 1989a, 1). In 1988, allotment users also requested and got permission to graze 600 domestic sheep on the Bearskull-Cottonwood Allotment (USFS 1988). With so many domestic sheep in the area in the years preceding the Aldrich Mountain die-off, it is possible that strays may have remained on the range and contributed to the 1991 disease outbreak.

In 1991, bighorns at Aldrich Mountain experienced a pneumonia outbreak. According to ODFW, the Aldrich Mountain bighorns:

“. . . abruptly declined from 100 animals to 32 animals. The cause was unknown at the time, but pneumonia was suspected. Subsequent information indicated pneumonia caused the decline. No definitive evidence as to what caused the pneumonia outbreak was found. However, trailing practices on an open range domestic sheep allotment within 5 miles of this bighorn herd were altered in 1993, and to date, no other die-offs have occurred” (2003, 61).

The ODFW adds that “a change in trailing practices to keep domestic sheep approximately 5 miles away from [Aldrich Mountain] wild sheep in the spring and 20 miles in the fall has been adequate” (2003, 60). In reference to the Aldrich Mountain die-off and others, ODFW states: “Contact with domestic sheep or goats is the most likely source for these outbreaks” (2003, 61). By 2012, an estimated 120 bighorns occurred at Aldrich Mountain (ODFW 2012). Though Aldrich Mountain bighorns have recovered from their 1991 die-off, a variety of policy documents shed light on just how conscientious local land managers were of a domestic sheep disease threat.

One of the most applicable policy documents in place at the time of the 1991 Aldrich Mountain die-off was Oregon’s 1986 bighorn management plan. It clearly acknowledges the disease problem by stating: “Parasites and diseases, especially those transmitted from domestic sheep, can be devastating to bighorn sheep” (ODFW 1986, 7). Via its included comment letters, this plan also provides a snapshot of how prominent the wild-domestic sheep issue was in Oregon in the late 1980s. For example, a letter by Allan R. Polenz of the Oregon Hunter’s Association recommended that ODFW have: “Strict enforcement of assurances that domestic sheep and bighorn sheep be kept separated, and that bighorn sheep not range where the domestic sheep have been” (ODFW 1986, A-3).

The BLM’s 1984 Proposed John Day Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement covered Aldrich bighorn range during the time of the die-off. However, it mainly references bighorns in the context of forage availability and animal unit months (AUMs). It does not address wild-domestic sheep interaction policy (BLM 1984).

The Ochoco National Forest is in the vicinity of the western edge of Aldrich Mountain bighorn range (USFS 2012c). An examination of the 1989 land and resource management plan for that Forest reveals that it hosted domestic sheep allotments. However, the plan makes no reference to wild-domestic sheep interaction policy (USFS 1989b).

The 1990 Malheur National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan directly addresses the wild-domestic sheep disease issue with a provision about not putting domestic sheep in bighorn range (USFS 1990b). Its description of a forest-wide standard states: “Do not stock livestock allotment pastures within bighorn sheep range with domestic sheep” (USFS 1990b, IV-31).  According to natural resources policy expert Martin Nie, “the only component of national forest planning, other than viability, that is binding and enforceable on the agency is a planning standard” (April 26, 2013, e-mail message to author). Thus, the fact that the domestic sheep threat was acknowledged in an actual standard is significant.

The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Malheur Forest plan lists California bighorns as a sensitive species (USFS 1990a). As part of management direction common to all plan alternatives, the FEIS states: “The habitat on Aldrich Mountain . . . will be maintained for California bighorn sheep” (USFS 1990a, II-32). While these are solid provisions, one must keep in mind that they were published in a 1990 plan, and the Aldrich Mountain die-off happened soon after in 1991. While in existence at the time of the disease outbreak, these USFS regulations may not have been well-known or feasible to enforce because of how recently they were published.

The BLM’s 1990 guidelines for domestic sheep management in desert bighorn habitat would have been relevant at the time and could apply to any bighorn subspecies (DBC Technical Staff 1990). However, Aldrich Mountain’s wild sheep are California bighorns, so the 1990 BLM guidelines are not included in the analysis criteria answers below.

Now that Aldrich Mountain’s 1991 California bighorn disease outbreak and related factors have been summarized, useful context has been established for analyzing specific policies. These policies are analyzed by addressing questions that make up nine policy analysis criteria.


1.) Were clearly defined buffer zones established to ensure separation of bighorns and domestic sheep?

Answer and Explanation
Before the die-off, no clearly defined buffer zones existed in the Aldrich Mountain area. According to ODFW biologist Craig Foster: “As I understood it at the time we had asked for this or a change in livestock class but the Ochoco Forest had not acted” (Foster 2012).

2.) Were special supervision rules in place for sheepherders?

Answer and Explanation
Regarding potential interaction with bighorns, no special sheepherder supervision rules were discovered in the USFS’s 1988 and 1989 annual operating instructions for the Bearskull-Cottonwood Allotment. Minimal sheep herding guidelines were provided in these instructions, but they focused on grazing locations (especially riparian areas) and durations with no reference to bighorns (BLM 1988, 1989a). When asked, Foster’s response to the question above was: “No, No clue” (2012).

3.) Were domestic sheep trailing restrictions in place to ensure separation?

Answer and Explanation
Trailing restrictions were not in place before the die-off, but they were put in place afterward (Foster 2012).

4.) Were policies in place or was consideration taken regarding the concept of prohibiting bighorn reintroduction to the site if it hosted domestic sheep?

According to Foster, domestic sheep were a consideration when the Aldrich bighorn population was established (2012). However, while doing research for this study, such consideration was only found in print as early as the 1980s.

Oregon’s 1986 bighorn management plan states: “Bighorn sheep will not be introduced into locations where they may be expected to come into contact with domestic sheep” (ODFW 1986, 7). According to Foster: “ODFW has a policy to not re-introduce bighorn where there may be domestic conflict. That was formalized in the mid 90’s to be a 9 mile buffer.  [The] Aldrich herd was re-established . . . when the Black Canyon domestic allotment was vacant” (2012). An attachment to Oregon’s 1986 bighorn plan touches on domestic sheep presence consideration. A letter from Ralph Denny (president of the Oregon Woolgrowers Association) emphasizes a desire by sheep producers to not lose grazing land access because of the establishment of new bighorn populations. In an ODFW response letter, Monte Montgomery remarks:

“Though several historic mountain sheep ranges have been identified as having existing domestic sheep allotments, they are identified as transplant sites, but are very low on the priority. Introductions would not be made into areas where there would be any potential of removing domestic sheep for the purpose of reintroduction. The thought in identifying those areas was that future consideration for introduction would be eliminated, unless changes in ownership or land use were brought about for other regions. We would hesitate to put wild sheep on any range that had domestic sheep in the past 20 years” (ODFW 1986, A-5).

5.) Before the disease outbreak, was any effort made to buy out nearby domestic sheep grazing allotments or convert them to cattle?

Answer and Explanation
According to Foster: “As I understood it at the time we had asked for . . . a change in livestock class but the Ochoco Forest had not acted” (2012). So, an attempt to convert the allotment to cattle may have occurred.

Oregon’s 1986 bighorn plan lists a management strategy to: “Work with land management agencies in an effort to locate domestic sheep grazing allotments away from identified (present/future) bighorn sheep ranges” (ODFW 1986, 7).

6.) Were other forms of negotiation and/or education attempted with local stakeholders regarding the issue of bighorn-domestic sheep disease transmission?

Answer and Implementation
Foster’s response to the above question was: “No idea” (2012). However, at the state level, ODFW sent its 1986 bighorn management plan (includes info on wild-domestic sheep separation) to the Oregon Sheep Growers Association, other agricultural stakeholders, hunting groups, and environmental groups (ODFW 1986).

Regarding the establishment of new bighorn populations, according to Oregon’s 1986 bighorn management plan: “Cooperative agreements that ensure bighorn sheep habitat integrity of the release sites must be enacted” (ODFW 1986, 9). A key part of ensuring habitat integrity is to separate wild and domestic sheep, so this clause qualifies as policy applicable to negotiation and education efforts related to the disease issue.

7.) If wandering bighorns got too close to domestic sheep, were they ever removed from the wild in or near this location?

When asked the above question, Foster was not sure if bighorns that got near domestic sheep were ever removed from the wild in the Aldrich Mountain area (2012).

Removing bighorns near domestic sheep was ODFW district policy in the area by 1995. Foster worked with Aldrich bighorns starting that year, and he was not sure if bighorn removal was the policy earlier than 1995 (2012).

8.) Did coordination and/or tension exist between different levels (federal, state, local) of government management agencies regarding bighorn-domestic sheep interaction?

Answer and Nature
According to Foster: “As I understood it at the time we had asked for . . . a change in livestock class but the Ochoco Forest had not acted” (2012). So, there was likely some coordination and possibly tension between ODFW and the USFS. Some agency tension may have also existed at the state level during the time of the outbreak. In the answers to a questionnaire presented to biologists at the 2nd North American Wild Sheep Conference in 1999, ODFW biologist Don Whittaker listed “domestic sheep allotment management” as a state-federal relationship challenge involved with management of California bighorn sheep (Arthur et al. 1999, 437).

Oregon’s 1986 bighorn management plan lists the management strategy of: “Work with land management agencies to insure no contact between established bighorn sheep herds and domestic sheep” (ODFW 1986, 7).

9.) Did you encounter funding difficulties regarding bighorn-domestic sheep interaction management?

When asked the above question, Foster had no idea if ODFW encountered funding difficulties related to Aldrich Mountain wild-domestic sheep interaction management (2012).

Bighorn-domestic sheep interaction policy in the Aldrich Mountain area before its die-off was not prominent or especially effective. A lack of clear buffers, sheepherder supervision rules, and trailing restrictions (Foster 2012) demonstrate notable policy gaps. The consideration of domestic sheep before reintroducing bighorns to Aldrich Mountain (Foster 2012) may have delayed the onset of disease because bighorns were reintroduced when a nearby sheep allotment was vacant. Nonetheless, neglecting to consider domestic sheep after reintroduction demonstrates more missing policy. Grazing alteration efforts did not happen fast enough or effectively enough to prevent the 1991 disease outbreak, but according to ODFW, they proved to be effective afterward (2003). Details regarding education/negotiation, bighorn removal, agency coordination/tension, and funding difficulties for Aldrich Mountain are unclear.

Arthur, Steven M., Ian Hatter, Alasdair Veitch, John Nagy, Jean Carey, Jon T. Jorgenson, Raymond Lee,  John Ellenberger, John Beecham, John J. McCarthy, Gary Schlichtemeier, Larry T. Gilbertson, Bill Dunn, Don Whittaker, Ted A. Benzon, Jim Karpowitz, George Tsukamato, Kevin Hurley, Steven G. Torres, Craig Mortimore, Mike Oehler, Patrick Cummings, Craig Stevenson, Eric Rominger, and Doug Humphreys. 1999. Appendix A: Wild sheep status questionnaires. In proceedings of 2nd North American Wild Sheep Conference, Reno, NV. April 6-9.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 1984. Proposed John Day Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement. Burns, OR. http://books.google.com/books?id= 8cXuAAAAM AAJ (accessed June 6, 2012). [govt. doc.]

Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 1995. Mountain Sheep Ecosystem Management Strategy in the 11 Western States and Alaska. N.p. ftp://ftp.blm.gov/pub/blmlibrary/BLM publications/StrategicPlans/Wildlife/ MountainSheepEcosystem.pdf (accessed May 11, 2012). [govt. doc.]

Desert Bighorn Council Technical Staff. 1990. Guidelines for the management of domestic sheep in the vicinity of desert bighorn habitat. In transactions of Desert Bighorn Council’s 34th Annual Meeting, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. April 4-6.

Foster, Craig. 2012. District Wildlife Biologist (Lakeview Field Office), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Interview by author. Conducted by e-mail. June 25.

Gibson, Steve. 2012. Rangeland Program Manager (Ochoco National Forest), U.S. Forest Service. Interview by author. Conducted by e-mail. August 15.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 1986. Oregon Bighorn Sheep Management Plan. N.p. [govt. doc.]

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 2003. Oregon’s Bighorn Sheep & Rocky Mountain Goat Management Plan: December 2003. Salem. http://www.dfw.state.or.us/ wildlife/management_plans/docs/sgplan_1203.pdf (accessed October 15, 2011). [govt. doc.]

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 2006. Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area Management Plan. Salem. http://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/06/oct/
Exhibit%20B/B_8_c_PWSA%20Final%20Draft%20Plan.pdf (accessed May 15, 2012).

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 2012. Bighorn Sheep Herd Composition, Fall and Spring 2011-2012. N.p. http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/big_game/ controlled_hunts/docs/hunt_statistics/12/BIGHORN_COMP_2012.pdf (accessed April 28, 2012).

Reeves, Terry. 2012. Visitor Information Services Worker (Ochoco National Forest), U.S. Forest Service. Interview by author. Conducted by phone. July 16.

Rodgers, Justin D. 2012. Rangeland Management Specialist (Prineville District), Bureau of Land Management. Interview by author. Conducted by e-mail. July 23.

U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 1988. Bearskull-Cottonwood Allotment Annual Operating Plan. Paulina, OR. [govt. doc.]

U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 1989a. Bearskull-Cottonwood Allotment Annual Operating Plan. Paulina, OR. [govt. doc.]

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U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 1990a. Final Environmental Impact Statement, Malheur National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. N.p. [govt. doc.]

U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 1990b. Malheur National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. N.p. http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/malheur/landmanagement/?cid=fsb dev3_033814 (accessed June 7, 2012). [govt. doc.]

U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 1991. Bearskull-Cottonwood Allotment Annual Operating Plan. Paulina, OR. [govt. doc.]

U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 2010. Malheur National Forest: Review of Areas with Wilderness Potential. N.p. http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb526 0370.pdf (accessed May 14, 2012).

U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 2012. Oregon Bighorn Sheep Occupied Habitat and Domestic Sheep Grazing Allotments. http://www.fs.fed.us/biology/resources/pubs/wildlife/sheep-maps/Bighorn Sheep_OR_26x34_v10.pdf (accessed May 15, 2012).