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Sheep deaths prompt hunting closure near Gardiner

(HELENA)- As biologists continue to struggle with the cause of a disease that's killing off sheep in the Northern Rockies, wildlife managers are closing hunting in one area near Gardiner to dave the remnants of one herd. 

The sheep pneumonia has been an increasing problem in the region over the past few seasons, killing hundreds of bighorns. Researchers are still trying to work out the exact reasons for the spread of the disease, and why some sheep are immune while others are not. 

The die-off has been particularly bad this season in hunting district 305 in Park County, where 30% of the herd and 40% of the mature rams have died around in the cliffs around Gardiner and Cinnabar since the outbreak started last year. This winter alone, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agents have found more than 2-dozen dead sheep. 

Now, the FWP Commission has approved an emergency closure of the 2015 hunting season in that district to protect the remainder of the herd. The plan would be to re-open hunting when the sheep population recovers. 

Hunters who had already applied will be given a chance to apply elsewhere in the state, or given a refund. Last year about 100-hunters had applied for the single permit that was granted for the 2015 season.

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