Sheep Management Meetings - Summary of Updates

WSFA recently initiated sheep management meetings which were held on December 7th, 2017 in Edmonton. There were representatives from a number of stakeholder groups including AEP, ACA, ABA, AFGA, APOS, SCI Northern Alberta Chapter, and WSFA in attendance. It was a productive gathering of the various groups with good discussion and updates on sheep related matters here in Alberta. 
Organization Structure Update
Anne Hubbs is now working out of AEP’s Edmonton Headquarters and is the Provincial contact regarding sheep matters.

WSFA Website
Darren Thomson discussed WSFA’s upgraded website. Advised that WSFA now has enhanced communication capability, more effective messaging and reach out to membership for feedback (surveys). The website is available to assist AEP with messaging and education needs.

WSFA has partnered with AHEIA to fund the development of a sheep hunter education program that AHEIA is putting together. The program will focus on field judging rams, and identifying a mature ram. AEP is interested and would like to review the program when it is available.
Anne and Matt discussed new modelling software acquired by AEP and the significant role it will play in determining future management decisions. 

Sheep Management Plan
The updated plan is still a work-in progress. Desire to get feedback from all stakeholders, including the sheep hunting community, to determine where sheep hunters values lay, ie: opportunity, trophy class rams, numbers of rams, etc.? Sign-off of plan may not occur until Disease Separation Policy is approved.

Sheep River Sanctuary
Anne updated the group regarding earlier concerns expressed by WSFA regarding possible over-grazing by cattle on the sanctuary. K. Ruckstahl, biologist, conducting research on the Sanctuary, has also expressed concerns about overgrazing. Anne is waiting for feedback from the agrologist responsible for that area. Cattle are supposed to be off the lease by Oct. 15. Regional agrologist is supposed to work with leaseholders to ensure grass carryover does not drop to less than 50%.

Designated Registration Locations
AEP is still interested in moving to designated offices for registering sheep to improve data quality and efficiency in man-power and training. Also use of standardized measuring jigs, etc. Training workshops would be a part of possible implementation. WSFA indicated that they have been trying to promote development of this system for some time, would help with funding costs to make it happen.

Disease Management
Lengthy discussion on this issue. Six known outbreaks since the 1940’s. Currently no legislation preventing grazing of sheep and goats on Forest Reserve allotments adjacent to or overlapping bighorn range. New Alberta Government team in place – AEP, Animal Health, Parks and Rangeland – now in place to look at separation mapping and policy. Camelids-Alpacas and Llamas- may be carriers but no conclusive data to date. Other jurisdictions have been looking at possible strategies to address the disease issue. Spatial separation is considered the only strategy to date that is effective in preventing the diseases from spreading from domestics to bighorns, B.C. has partnered with National WSF to develop and deliver separation strategies. Anne has been in touch with Jeremy Ayotte, responsible for the program. There has been excellent communication and collaboration across all jurisdictions on the topic.

Discussion regarding issuing nasal swab kits to sheep hunters and outfitters. Field testing will not be an easy program to implement. Samples must be frozen within 48 hrs after being taken. At this time, logistics suggest the best option may be to have the samples taken when the heads are submitted for registration. 
In 2017 AEP took live samples from 4 areas including: High Risk Areas – Sheep River and SMA 1, estimate 40 samples; Medium Risk Area – Clearwater, 5 samples; Low Risk Area – Ram Mtn., 20 samples. An additional 20 samples were taken from sheep being registered. All samples have been submitted to the B.C. lab.

It was suggested that harvested ewes should be submitted for registration and testing.

Habitat Manipulation
ACA suggested it could look at trying some habitat enhancement on a test project on range subject to undesirable vegetation encroachment, utilizing chemical and/or mechanical means. Mechanical would be with physical labor, not invasive heavy equipment. AEP mentioned burns generally preferred option – larger scale (beneficial for potential population – effects for bighorns & to prevent possibility of creating predator sink). Discussion regarding the effectiveness of controlled burns and factors that make it difficult to make them happen. Costs associated with burns is not an issue, funding is available. AEP have and are developing burn plans for 2018 and beyond. 

AEP is still considering the possibility of hunting regulation changes (e.g. full curl, draw etc) legislation applicable to some SMA’s but there will be no changes implemented in 2018.

Funding Requirements
AEP identified possible 2018 funding requirements for 3-5 year disease – separation project started in 2017; Lab Analysis costs; Aerial Surveys in south end of the province; Software cases associated with the ALCES modeling program; and costs related to analyzing data coming out of the Resiliency Project. 

Resiliency Study
Jeff Kneteman provided an update on the project. The presentation will be made available soon.

Jeff indicated that Cadomin Mine numbers have dropped from 1200 plus sheep to about 500 plus. Doesn’t believe that predation is a big factor, thinks a significant number of ewes and lambs are leaving the mine area and would like to determine why. Possibly increasing competition from other ungulate species. Others feel predation is the major reason for the drop in numbers.

Jeff believes that Cadomin continues to draw in rams from distant ranges; theory is being assessed through DNA work (e.g. mitochondrial analysis for ewes in progress).

WSFA indicated that there is a need to develop meaningful communication and working relationships with AEP and other stakeholders to ensure effective delivery of programs. It was agreed that each stakeholder group in attendance would designate one person to work with Anne to determine messaging needs and getting the messages out to the stakeholders.

It was agreed that these meetings should be happening annually, with regular correspondence throughout the year.