Photo provided by Division of Wildlife Resources
Forty-nine desert bighorn sheep just changed their zip code from one in Nevada to one in Utah.
The hope is the Nevada sheep will find their new range comfortable and will begin a new life and a new herd.
Nevada had too many sheep in Valley of Fire State Park herd, and Utah needed sheep to bolster numbers in an Escalante herd. It was a cooperative agreement. At some point, Nevada may need some wildlife help from Utah, and Utah will help if it can.
The release site in Utah is very remote—roughly 15 miles from the Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell. It is a land of rock, sand and sparse vegetation—perfect for desert bighorns.
The operation began the week of Nov. 3 in Valley of Fire, located just west of the Utah/Nevada border.
Pilot and crew in a helicopter spotted likely candidates—mainly ewes, but a few lambs and young rams—and used a net gun to capture the sheep. They were then flown a short distance to a staging area where biologists drew blood samples, attached radio collars and placed the sheep in metal containers, three sheep per container.
“(The metal boxes) were a system borrowed from Nevada, and they worked well. After the blood samples were taken, the sheep were driven to Bullfrog and we waited,’’ said Dustin Schaible, bighorn sheep manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources. “We put three sheep to a container because sheep become very stressed when they are by themselves.’’
The Utah Highway Patrol provided the helicopter and pilot to move the sheep from Bullfrog to the release site.
Schaible said 35 sheep were trapped on Monday and moved to Bullfrog Marina in horse trailers and released in Long Canyon within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on Tuesday. Then on Tuesday, 19 more sheep were captured and moved to Bullfrog and released on Wednesday in Annie’s Canyon, about four miles East of the first release.
Last year, Nevada gave Utah 50 additional desert bighorn that were released in the Kaiparowits East unit.
Schaible said the release sites were selected because of the low density of sheep in the area. Sheep have not been documented in Long Canyon within the past decade.
The DWR has had trouble building a herd in the area for a number of reasons, which include the possibility of disease and predation by mountain lions.
“One thing that was nice about this project,’’ Schaible said, “is there were so many partners that made this all possible.’’ These would include support from the DWR, FNAWS, volunteers and the UHP, and because the release was in a national park area, the National Park Service needed to be involved.
This will not be the last of the in-state transplants. Teresa Griffin, Southern Region wildlife program manager for the DWR, notes that “January will be a very busy month or us. Along with bighorn sheep, we’ll be trapping and moving about 100 deer from the Parowan Unit and moving them to an area near Fillmore."