Did a salt block along the highway contribute bighorn sheep deaths?
Could a salt block found along Highway 26 be a contributing factor in recent bighorn sheep deaths? Earlier this week, the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation shared a couple photos on their Facebook page drawing a direct connection between ewes being hit by a semi east of Dubois and the discovery of a salt block a month later on the side of the road in the same area. But ultimately, the man who found the Foundation wants to turn the situation into a positive.
“The salt block appears to have been deliberately placed so someone could view, photograph, or hunt bighorns at the site,” the post states. “Not only is such activity unethical, but attracting bighorns across a busy highway likely contributed directly to the death of at least three pregnant ewes – 6 sheep in total.”
In an interview, Foundation Executive Director Steve Kilpatrick said he was driving through the area on Sunday when he decided to stop and look to see what type of vegetation was attracting the sheep to the area. He described the location of the block as being off the road a bit, but still within the highway right-of-way, and down a small hill. This was on the opposite side of the highway from the sheep’s cliff habitat. He said he wasn’t able to see the block until he got off the road and walked closer.
Kilpatrick grew up on a ranch and has experience with salting with cattle. He said it was clear the block had been there for months. He believes someone placed it there likely with good intentions, thinking they were helping the wildlife or providing better viewing. And he doesn’t hold any malice against anyone.
Because the block was not on private property, but in the highway right-of-way, Kilpatrick removed it.
G&F Lander Region Information and Education Specialist Rene Schell said bighorn sheep are killed along that stretch of road every year, crossing from the hills to the river for water. Kilpatrick said water needs aren’t as dire on the cliff side of the highway, the sheep’s primary habitat, that would make them need to cross the road at this time of year.
Kilpatrich would like to see the situation made positive. Perhaps, he said, the habitat on the cliff side could be improved through fertilizer, herbicide or maybe even a water project, if all of the necessary agencies can work together.
While it would be hard to prove if a salt block was intentionally placed, if that was the case Schell said it would be “a poor choice” by the people involved. “Certainly, congregation of and lingering of these animals near a roadway would increase their likelihood of getting hit by a car.”
G&F discourages the public from feeding wildlife. Regardless of the risk of traffic deaths, concentrations of animals in one area can ease the spread of disease, and feeding can alter natural migration patterns, which could lead to long-term sustainability issues for the population.
G&F is hosting a Wyoming’s Wildlife and Roadways Summit on April 26-27 with the goal of identifying priority areas for reducing vehicle and wildlife collisions and increasing motorist safety. Learn more here.