Mountain bikers are advised to dismount from their bikes when passing through sheep herds this week in the foothills.
On their way to the high country, some 2,400 sheep will take to the Boise foothills beginning Wednesday, April 8. The sheep will graze along popular hiking and mountain biking trails during their 10-day migration, including Hulls Gulch, Red Cliffs and Crestline.
The first flock of sheep will be dropped off near the Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center off Eighth Street and graze along to Table Rock. The second flock of sheep will work its way across Highway 55 near Beacon Light Road in Eagle in mid-April. They'll move toward the Corrals Trail and eastward from there later in the month.
Opening the foothills to the sheep does pose challenges for recreational trail users. For example, dogs need to be on a leash near the sheep—even if they're on an off-leash trail—to keep dogs from chasing sheep and lambs, or crossing paths with the Great Pyrenees guard dogs. The guard dogs are used to prevent coyotes and other predators from attacking domestic sheep, and could behave protectively in the presence of other 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," said sheep owner Frank Shirts, a rancher in Wilder. Shirts uses permits with the Idaho Department of Lands and the Bureau of Land Management to graze his sheep in the foothills.
Guard dogs are the only use of predator-control Shirts has in the foothills, eliminating other methods like poisoning coyotes or targeting them in aerial gunning.
Along with keeping dogs leashed, Shirts also recommends that mountain bikers dismount and walk their bikes through sheep herds, otherwise the guard dogs could charge towards the bikers.
"If you try to outrun a dog with 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."
Other tips from the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission include opening and closing gates as hikers pass through, and keeping a mountain bike in between the rider and the Great Pyrenees if approached. Talking to the guard dogs will help ease the situation as well.
The commission also posted new signs at four Ridge to Rivers trailheads to remind trail users how to interact with sheep. It's part of their "Care and Share" program, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM and other recreation groups to help people care for public lands and share them respectfully with others.
"We know that the sheep migration can be an inconvenience for recreationists, and we're hoping that the tips we're providing will allow everyone to enjoy their time in the outdoors without conflict," said Gretchen Hyde, the executive director of the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission. She encourages trail users to give the sheep herds a wide berth if possible.
A few foothills trails that won't be impacted by the sheep migration include Polecat Gulch, Hillside to Hollow, Seaman's Gulch, Table Rock, the Eagle Cycle Park and the Oregon Trail Reserve near Surprise Valley.