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Sheep herds begin grazing in foothills

Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-12 19:45:34-04

There are 2,500 new residents calling Boise home - at least for a little while. Herds of sheep and new born lambs are stretching their legs in the foothills as they begin their annual graze.

Only in Idaho can you ride a bike from the statehouse to the foothill feeding grounds of large-scale livestock. Tuesday morning, several trailers dropped off thousands of ewes and lambs that will take the yearly trip throughout the mountains to graze and grow.

It's organized chaos as hundreds of sheep scurry out of packed trailers and into open pasture.
Some bound out excitedly. Others are more, well...sheepish.

It doesn't take long for them to get to work, though, eating away early growing invasive species like cheatgrass.

"Grazing is one of the best tools,” said Gretchen Hyde, discussing land management techniques.

Hyde is the executive director of the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission. She’s a strong proponent of using livestock to graze away some grasses that turn into fuel for wildfires later in the year.

“It's better than any kind of mechanical (treatments) and it's better than a lot of chemical,” she continued. “The timing is important. This is when the cheatgrass is most palatable and when we can really make an impact on cheatgrass management."

Cheatgrass has overtaken many fire-resistant native species leaving land prone to massive wildfires. Land managers blame its prevalence on last year's 280,000 acre Soda Fire.

Bringing in sheep to eat away some of the early vegetation is in high demand not only by the BLM, but owners of the high end foothills homes. Hyde says many private home owners pay ranchers to bring the sheep into their property.

"They request it,” she said. “There's several land owners that saw we want you to be there every year."

It's the kind of win-win ranchers like Frank Shirts is looking for. Increased regulations from the BLM have forced changes in his operation.

"There's a lot of headaches anymore,” he said. “The federal government is just killing us."

To keep from stripping away the vegetation, sheep herders and their canine rustlers will move the sheep along constantly. Shirts said they’ll only eat roughly 10% of the grasses in any one area.

The sheep herds will be hanging around the area for ten to fourteen days. Any recreators using the foothills trails are urged to be cautious and take it slow around the sheep. They are being guarded by sheep dogs trained to attack anything they perceive as a threat.