Longtime sheep researcher retires

Marie Bulgin


Capital Press

Marie Bulgin retired at the end of June from the University of Idaho Caine Veterinary Teaching Center at Caldwell.

Bulgin, a large-animal veterinarian, had been with the University of Idaho 33 years, the last seven focused largely on her role as coordinator of the center's teaching programs for students in the Washington-Idaho veterinary education program.

Stan Boyd, executive director of Idaho Wool Growers Association, said Bulgin is respected by the livestock industry.

"She'll sorely be missed. It's a tremendous loss to the livestock industry," he said.

Bulgin's interest in domestic sheep and infectious disease expertise eventually led to her involvement in bighorn sheep issues.

Bulgin has testified to the Idaho legislature and in federal litigation that there is no peer-reviewed proof of bighorn die-off from transmission from domestic sheep on the range.

That contention threw her into the spotlight last summer, when advocates for removing livestock from public lands questioned her integrity and scientific objectivity.

The university relieved Bulgin of her administrative duties while investigating the matter. She was ultimately cleared of any scientific misconduct.

Bulgin's career with the university started in 1977 when she was the second veterinary professor hired by the University of Idaho for Caldwell. She was the last of the original Idaho faculty from the cooperative state veterinary medical education program to retire, according to a press release from the university.

Focused on beef, dairy and sheep, the center originally served students in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. She became the sheep specialist because, unlike the rest of the first faculty, she had had some experience with goats, which led her to become the team's small ruminant specialist, the press release said.

"I got the sheep thrown in because Stu (Lincoln) said sheep are just goats with wool," Bulgin said. Stuart Lincoln was the first veterinary professor hired by the university.

Early on, her background in microbiology and as a medical technologist helped her identify and solve a major problem for sheep producers, epididymitis, a disease that reduces ram fertility.

She began testing rams and found a bacterium responsible for the infection that affected some 40 percent of range rams in Idaho. Her relationship with the Idaho Wool Growers Association began when she presented her findings at a Wool Growers meeting,

Her support for and from the sheep industry led to her serving as the Idaho Wool Growers' first female president from 2005 to 2008.

"I've always liked working with ranchers," she said in the press release. "The uplifting thing about being a vet is walking in and being able to help people solve a problem with their animals. And in some cases we help people stay in business because some of these diseases are economically devastating."

Much of her career was spent with veterinary students, giving them hands-on experience diagnosing and treating livestock.

"That's what I like about the job, teaching students and working with other food-animal vets. We really are the food system's guardians in terms of safety."

Now 71, Bulgin said her enjoyment of the job was compromised by the reality of getting older.

"This is a physical, strenuous job, and I'm at the point where I can't physically do it anymore without help," she said. "So it's time to move on."

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