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They’re baaaa-ack! … sheep begin their annual migration through the Boise foothills

Photo: Image by J Bates, Idaho On Your Side

They’re baaaa-ack! … sheep begin their annual migration through the Boise foothills

By On Your Side Newsroom. CREATED Apr 14, 2014

It’s springtime in the Boise Foothills; the grass is greening, flowers are blooming, hikers, runners and mountain bikers are exercising on the trails -- and domestic sheep are beginning their annual migration through the foothills toward the high country.

The first group of sheep moved into the West Boise Foothills Monday, crossing Idaho State Highway 55 by Beacon Light Road in Eagle, and grazing by the Eagle Sports Complex on Old Horseshoe Bend Road. From there, they will be grazing across the foothills on a daily basis, feeding on fresh forbs and shrubs.

By midweek to Thursday, the sheep are expected to be pass through the Central Foothills near the Corrals Trailhead, and continue moving toward popular recreation trails in Hulls Gulch and points east. The sheep are owned by Wilder rancher Frank Shirts, who has permits with the state and Bureau of Land Management to graze the sheep through the foothills

Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission officials are reminding recreation users to keep their dogs on leash when they encounter domestic sheep -- even if they're on a non-leash trail – so the dogs don't chase vulnerable young lambs or get cross-wise with Great Pyrenees guard dogs, said

White Great Pyrenees guard dogs are used by ranchers to prevent coyotes and other predators from preying on domestic sheep. The dogs are used in place of old-style predator-control methods such as poisoning coyotes or aerial gunning. Each band of sheep (approximately 2,400 animals) is normally protected by two guard dogs. "The coyotes are thick in those foothills," Shirts said. "The guard dogs are our only means of predator control."

If domestic dogs are running free and chasing lambs, the guard dogs will confront the dogs. “My guard dogs are going to react to that threat, so it'd be great if people could keep their dogs on leash to avoid any conflicts,” Shirts said.

Shirts also recommends that mountain bikers dismount from their bikes when they pass through a group of sheep to prevent a potential conflict with guard dogs. The guard dogs may charge mountain bikers or chase them, if riders pass through at a fast pace, he said.

"If you try to outrun a dog on your bike, the guard dog will think you're trying to play a game with him, and he might chase you," Shirts said. "If you get off your bike and walk, they won't be threatened."

The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission has produced new signs posted at four Ridge to Rivers trailheads, providing tips for recreationists on how to interact with the sheep.