Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service launch bighorn sheep study

Last week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers successfully captured and collared 10 bighorn rams in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area near the border of Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

Three herds of bighorn sheep reside in the wilderness area, and the collaring operation marked the beginning of a cooperative study between Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service to monitor herd movements.

During the past 10 to 15 years, two of the three bighorn sheep herds in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area have experienced population declines possibly resulting from bacterial pneumonia, according to a Parks and Wildlife news release.

Little is known about the third herd, but wildlife managers say they are eager to see what information the cooperative study may generate.

“These are iconic animals in Colorado and it’s important that we do what we can to ensure that these herds continue to exist,” Julie Mao, a terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in the release. “The study will provide invaluable information about these herds — more than we have ever known — including whether the three herds interact with each other and whether they cross areas allotted for domestic sheep.”

Wildlife managers chose rams as the focus of their study because rams generally travel farther distances than ewes. If infected while roaming, the rams could transmit the disease to uninfected wild sheep when they return to their herds.

Managers hope information compiled during the study will help agency officials and livestock managers minimize the amount of interspecies contact, keeping potential disease transmission to a minimum.

“Learning more about their movements is critical in keeping wild and domestic sheep herds from overlapping,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Glenwood Springs. “We will focus on limiting interactions and we anticipate good results from this strategy.”

Funds for the study came from the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, Colorado’s Auction and Raffle Program, and the Wild Sheep Foundation, with the majority of the funds coming from Colorado sportsmen.

Colorado features two species of bighorn sheep, including the Rocky Mountain bighorn, which is native, and the desert bighorn, which was introduced in 1979 near Colorado National Monument.

The Rocky Mountain bighorn is Colorado’s official state animal and the symbol of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Colorado is home to the largest population of bighorn sheep anywhere on the planet.

For more information, visit Colorado Parks and WildlifeColorado Parks and Wildlife online. online.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife online.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or