by Valerie Moilliet Gerber
It’s hard to pin down when the BC Sheep Federation officially began addressing interactions between wild and domestic sheep and disease transfer between the two populations.
As early as 30 years ago, BCSF was involved with sheep health in locations that contained wild sheep. In the 1980s, grazing contracts became active in the forestry cutblocks and the practice continued into the late 1990s. The newly-formed BCSF started a Shepherd Training School to train people for jobs on farms and cutblocks. BCSF quickly established a flock health program known as the BC Sheep Federation Quality Assurance Program.
Health protocols for cutblocks were established and all sheep coming off and going back on the trucks were monitored and issued health certificates.
Most of the issues with interaction now occur with domestic sheep on private land. The BCSF has been involved with the Sheep Separation Program since 2013 when the current program co-ordinator was hired. Domestic sheep producers and representatives from government and wild sheep groups are all part of the working group meetings and conference calls.
The BCSF felt it had to be on board to bring the face of the domestic sheep industry to the table, give feedback on some of the issues brought forward and advocate for the sheep producers who live in closer proximity to wild sheep habitat.
The BCSF has endeavoured to keep producers informed of the concerns wild sheep advocates have over disease transfers between the two species. The most recent focus has been on a pneumonia, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (MOVI), which exists in some domestic sheep and is said to have devastating effects on wild sheep that encounter domestics carrying the disease.
Domestic sheep have become the target of several town hall meetings, social media and press releases by wild sheep organizations. In their attempts to protect wild sheep populations, they have zeroed in on this disease and adamantly concur that die-offs of wild sheep are only due to this pneumonia. Little is said about hunting, road kill, predator losses and habitat degradation that all take their toll on wild sheep.
The BCSF has worked tirelessly with the Separation Working Group, met representatives from wild sheep and wildlife organizations, and most recently has been involved with a research study conducted by Dr. Scott Mann from Thompson Rivers University to test domestic sheep for MOVI. Several sheep producers co-operated in allowing their flocks to be tested.
The results of the testing are confidential but initial indications are that while there are some animals that test positive for MOVI, many flocks tested were free of the disease. Although this is very preliminary work, it is the start of attempts to gather information that will contribute to informed, scientific and responsible responses to interactions between wild and domestic sheep.
Taking a stand
The BCSF is adamant that using legislation, covenants and similar protocols are not acceptable to the industry, nor do they really address the issues. Separation techniques, such as double fencing, electric fencing, road and pathway guards and refuge pastures, may be effective in some cases but the question arises as to who will pay for them.
It is not realistic or appropriate to expect sheep producers to pony up to separate their flocks when they have no control over the wild sheep populations and where they might roam.
It is no secret that wildlife organizations are agressively lobbying government to deal with contact issues. More worrisome is the latest suggestion that those organizations intend to resort to litigation.
These organizations have a large war chest and a significant membership base. BCSF is a small producer group led by volunteers, no paid staff, and with limited financial ability to respond to such measures.
The BCSF has been at the table with wild sheep interest groups to come up with workable solutions to prevent disease transfer between the two species. It is our belief that answers lie in communication, co-operation and coming to consensus to allow the domestic sheep industry to grow while at the same time preserving the wildlife of BC.
Valerie Moilliet Gerber is president of the BC Sheep Federation. This piece was co-authored with Roma Tingle, a past president based near Prince George.
Vol. 103 Issue 5
STORIES IN THIS EDITION
One province, one panel
Groundwater deadline extended
Happy as a pig!
Sidebar: Still waiting
Feds pour millions into tree fruit research
Sidebar: Will local procurement help?>
Editorial: Confined spaces
Back Forty: BC farmers need more than a land bank
Island Good campaign drives local sales
Poultry industry seeks to stop infighting
Egg farmers to receive biggest quota boost ever
New entrant focus
Decision day looms for chicken pricing appeal
Producers look to CanadaGAP for certification
Organic sector undertakes core review
Hopping to it!
Island couple named Outstanding Young Farmers
Turkey consumption continues to decline
BC potato growers enjoy a strong footing
Sudden tree fruit dieback a growing concern
Late season BC cherries in global demand
Farmers’ markets aim to be local food hubs
Field trial hopes to reduce phosphorus levels
Future looking bright for BC dairy producers
BC could benefit from US trade battles
Saputo puts its Courtenay plant out to pasture
The land of milk and salmon
Sidebar: Farming for the future
Out of the hands of BC farmers
Codes of practice need producer input
Preparation essential for wildfire response
Sidebar: Relief announced for drought, fire
Sidebar: Be FireSmart with these tips
New traceability regs to track movement
Agriculture a notable threat to species at risk
Improper pesticide use threatens access
Threat to neonics spurs scare in spud growers
Orchard presses forward with diversification
Staying on top of soil health is key to sound farming
No small potatoes
Farm families need to have affairs in order
Rotary parlours go upscale at two FV dairies
Study compares organic, conventional diets
Advisory service foresees growing demand
Sidebar: Tree fruit cutbacks a concern
Island dairy producers hone first aid skills
Woodshed: And that’s how rumours get their teeth
Research farm showcases small projects
Jude’s Kitchen: Shooting stars of spring