Recreationists: Keep Dogs on leash when encountering domestic sheep

KETCHUM — (June 3, 2013) — It’s springtime in the Wood River Valley — the grass is greening up, the flowers are blooming, hikers, runners and mountain bikers are out on the trails getting exercise, and domestic sheep are beginning their annual migration into the high country.

The first bands of sheep have been moving through Croy Canyon area near Hailey, and moving north via the Wood River Trail as of today. More sheep will be moving into the Sawtooth National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the coming weeks, officials said. All told, approximately 14,000 domestic sheep will be moving through the valley and side draws where hikers, bikers, joggers, dog-walkers and horseback riders 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. And 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.

Recreationists can find out where sheep are grazing in the Wood River Valley before they hit the trails by checking on the Blaine County Recreation District summer trails web site. The site shows sheep icons with specific dates for when the sheep are grazing next to particular trails in certain drainages.

“The idea here is for people to see in advance what they’re going to see out there on the trails,” said John Kurtz of the BLM. “The great thing about the Wood River Valley is there’s so many trails and so many opportunities, and the sheep are in areas for such a small amount of time, in one drainage or another, so you sit at home and check out the web site, find out where the sheep are, and you can avoid them altogether.”

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. IRRC produced a YouTube video with tips for recreationists about the Care/Share program. Please share the video link.

When the sheep are moving through heavily used recreation areas, Forest Service and BLM officials put up Care/Share 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 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. It also lists the 2013 annual operating instructions for various allotments on the web site.

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.

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 travel into the high country.