Recreationists: Keep dogs on leash when encountering domestic sheep

Recreationists: Keep dogs on leash when encountering domestic sheep; walk bikes to avoid conflicts with guard dogs

KETCHUM — (May 29, 2010) — It’s springtime in the Wood River Valley — the grass is greening up, the flowers are blooming, hikers, runners and mountain bikers are out getting exercise, and domestic sheep are beginning their annual migration into the high country.

The first bands of sheep are expected to move into Greenhorn Gulch near Hailey the first week of June, and more sheep will be moving into the Sawtooth National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area by mid-June, officials said. All told, approximately 14,000 domestic sheep will be moving through the valley and side draws where hikers, bikers, joggers and dog-walkers go for recreation.

Sheep ranchers and officials with the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission (IRRC), U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management want to remind recreationists to keep their dogs on leash when they encounter domestic sheep. Mountain bikers should dismount and walk through sheep herds to avoid antagonizing Great Pyrenees guard dogs.

“If you get off your bike and talk to the dogs, they’ll leave you alone,” says Carey rancher John Peavey. “But don’t try to outrun them on your bike. They’ll probably try to chase you.” “Guard dogs think mountain bikes are a critter, and they’re trained to protect the sheep,” added Bill Whitaker, range conservationist for the Ketchum Ranger District. “It’s important to identify yourself to a dog that you’re human.”

It helps to talk to the dogs and let them know everything is OK and that you are not a threat to the sheep, Whitaker and Peavey said.

The IRRC has worked together with public agencies like the Forest Service, BLM and recreation groups to develop a program called “Care and Share,” which encourages people to care for public lands and share them respectfully with others.

Gretchen Hyde, executive director of IRRC, said she appreciates that most recreation users in the Wood River Valley give domestic sheep a wide berth to avoid conflicts when the sheep move through. “We know that the sheep migration can be an inconvenience to recreationists, and we’re hoping that the tips we’re providing will allow everyone to enjoy their time in the outdoors without conflict,” Hyde said.

When the sheep are moving through heavily used recreation areas, the Forest Service puts up temporary purple signs at trailheads, indicating the time period when the sheep will be grazing in the area and reminding recreationists about leashing dogs and walking bikes. The BLM puts up educational Care and Share signs at its trailheads.

The Sawtooth National Forest provides a trail report update in the summer on its web site so forest users can find out where they are likely to encounter domestic sheep herds.

If recreationists want to avoid running into sheep, Whitaker said recreation trails in Adams Gulch near Ketchum are normally a good place to go because the animals don’t stay in there for long, usually just a day or two. In other drainages, the sheep may graze for a month. It all depends on where a rancher’s sheep are approved to be grazing. Each rancher must abide by a grazing management plan, which details where the animals can graze and for how long.

At the end of the summer, the sheep travel back to the low country through Main Street Ketchum for the popular Trailing of the Sheep Festival, held in early October.

Some other helpful reminders:

  • Be sure to close gates after you pass through.
  • If you see horses or mules coming up the trail, pull off to the side of the trail and let the pack stock travel through. Horses and mules can spook easily when confronted by strangers. Peruvian herders travel by mule and horseback with the sheep as they move into the high country.

For more information, contact Gretchen Hyde, IRRC, 208-866-2466.