Desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep restored to historic habitats
Nov 17, 2006
Game and Fish biologists release a bighorn sheep ram in the Hell's Half Acre area.
PHOENIX – Desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep populations in the state received a boost thanks to two capture-transplant efforts by Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists to restore these majestic animals to their historic ranges.
Department biologists last week captured 28 desert bighorn sheep in the Virgin and Beaver Dam mountain area of the Arizona Strip near Utah and transplanted the animals to an area called Hell’s Half Acre along Burro Creek near Wikieup, which is located between Kingman and Wickenburg. This is the first effort to restore desert bighorns to this historic range.
Game and Fish biologists this week also captured 31 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from the Eagle Creek area in the vicinity of the Morenci Mine near the New Mexico border. The Rocky Mountain bighorns were transplanted yesterday to the rugged West Clear Creek Area on the eastern edge of the Verde Valley. This release augments the animals from the first 29 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep released there last year.
About one-third of the bighorns released at both sites were fitted with radio telemetry collars so biologists can track their movements and assess the transplant.
“These two captures and transplants are part of a 50-plus-year effort to bring these magnificent wild animals back from the brink of extirpation and restore them to their historic habitats,” says Brian Wakeling, big game supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
In fact, Arizona’s efforts have been so successful over the years that this state’s wildlife agency has assisted other states to recover their bighorn populations, as well.
In the late 1800s, bighorn sheep were eliminated from a large portion of their range as a result of exposure to disease and unregulated hunting. By the 1950s, bighorn populations in Arizona had dwindled significantly, and some feared they might be lost forever.
“The endeavor to restore the populations of these superb animals over the decades has been a classic cooperative effort between biologists and sportsmen,” says Wakeling.
Restoration efforts have involved enhanced land use planning, interagency cooperation and partnership, water development, conservative hunt strategies, transplants, habitat studies, habitat mitigation and many hours of volunteer support from organizations like the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society.
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