Montana bighorns transplanted to North Dakota
By RICHARD HINTON/Bismarck Tribune
Twenty bighorn sheep from the Missouri River Breaks area south of Havre, Mont., have a new home in western North Dakota.
North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists released the bighorns in the northern Badlands Monday, the second such transplant in as many years.
They went into an area between three small bighorn herds that was unused, said Brett Wiedmann, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department bighorn sheep biologist in Dickinson.
“You want to put new sheep in an area where there’s not too much contact with resident herds,” Wiedmann explained.
The sheep numbered three rams and 17 ewes. Two rams are 2-year-olds and one ram is a yearling, Wiedmann said, and the ewes are either 3 or 4 years old.
“Younger sheep acclimate better,” Wiedmann explained. “Older sheep want to be home.”
Most, if not all, of the ewes should be pregnant, Wiedmann said.
“The capture crew said there were gobs of lambs all over the place,” Wiedmann continued. “They sure are porky rascals. I’d guess all the ewes to be pregnant.”
Lamb recruitment into the herd is variable, “sometimes 100 percent, sometimes none. Of the nine ewes (transplanted) last year, seven recruited lambs, which goes back to why we bring in sheep from the Breaks,” Wiedmann said. That herd of 19 Missouri Breaks bighorns was transplanted last January.
Habitat in the Badlands and the Missouri Breaks is very similar. THe weather is the same, the water is the same,” Wiedmann explained.
Montana, with its abundance of bighorns, has become North Dakota’s sheep source.
“They exported in excess of 200 in the entire state, and every year they do a survey they have another record count,” Wiedmann said. “It’s good for us and them to reduce sheep numbers.”
This latest transplant puts North Dakota’s bighorn sheep population around 270, Wiedmann said. He will finish his counts by March.
NDGFD’s goal is a minimum of 300 bighorns, and lamb recruitment could be enough to get there.
“But if we have a spot we want to put sheep and Montana says they have some, we probably would give them a home,” Wiedmann said.
All of the bighorns are wearing radio collars, and Wiedmann will monitor the new herd closely.
Transplanting bighorns costs about $1,000 per sheep, and this transplant was funded by the Minnesota-Wisconsin Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, which also auctions a North Dakota bighorn license annually.
NDGFD biologists asked the chapter if there was funding available for the transplant, and “through word of mouth, they asked people to donate $1,000 for a sheep. They had 40 people willing to donate from around the country, and 19 people pledged money the first day,” Wiedmann said.
NDGFD covered the costs of the roundup and transplant, which was done by a crew from New Zealand in cooperation with the Montana Game, Fish and Parks Department.
“Montana gets nothing in return, and obviously bighorns are a very valuable resource,” Wiedmann said, “but they are helping North Dakota. Maybe some day we can help some other area.”
(Reach outdoor writer Richard Hinton at 701-250-8256 or email@example.com.)
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