Two weekends ago I joined Wyoming Game and Fish as they captured five bighorn sheep near the Encampment River. The state agency partnered with Native Range Capture Services which originated in New Zealand. The company works with many agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Another bighorn sheep capture took place last February. At that time Game and Fish collared five ewes. Over the weekend, the mugging crew caught the same sheep, so they could receive new collars.
Saratoga Game and Fish Biologist Teal Cufaude said the sheep needed new collars because the ones placed last year didn’t work well. The new collars have functional GPS systems that give Game and Fish the ability to see day to day movements. The old ones were only giving off high frequency signals.
“(The new collars) will send out a couple points per day as the sheep move throughout the landscape,” Teal said. “We’ll collect the collars in a couple years. Then we’ll be able to download even more points and fill in the gaps of where they’ve been moving day to day.”
Once the muggers captured the sheep, Game and Fish personnel and local residents brought the sheep to tables. There some Encampment students and Game and Fish employees took samples and fitted the animals with new collars.
The samples included blood samples, swabs from the nose and tonsils, fecal samples and an ultrasound to see if the ewes were pregnant.
The samples that Game and Fish gathered from the sheep will go to the agency’s veterinary lab. This is part of a statewide effort to gauge the health of the Wyoming’s bighorn sheep populations.
Game and Fish Wildlife Disease Supervisor Hank Edwards said the state wildlife agency can determine the health of the bighorn sheep with the samples.
“We’ll be sampling for pathogens known to cause pneumonia,” Hank said. “Pnemonia is a big deal in bighorn sheep.”
Game and Fish will also be able to compare herds that are healthy with those are not. From there they can try to determine differences in environment and any needs for ecological management.
Locally, Teal said Game and Fish will track the movements the sheep make to develop useful habitat improvement plans in the future.
“We’ll be able to know where we can better spend our money and our time enhancing habitat if we know exactly what parts of the landscape they’re using,” Teal said.
The state wildlife agency has been receiving help on the initiative from Encampment students. Jordan Seitz’s sixth and eighth grade classes got involved last February when Game and Fish captured the first five sheep.
The students have participated in observing the sheep as well.. The Game and Fish Laramie Region Newsletter states that the students took a field trip where the learned about bighorn sheep habitat, diets and digestion. Then they explored that habitat and learned about radio telemetry. At the end of the day they got to observe several bighorn sheep feeding near Miners Creek. Jordan said he hopes the experience inspires his students.
It’s cool that Jordan takes his classes out to help Game and Fish with this project. It shows the students that they can have a successful and awesome career in this state and in their hometown. Many students could enjoy a similar experience that opens their eyes to a fuller extent of what they can do after they graduate.
It’s been fun to take part in this effort myself for the past two years. I’ve gotten to touch the bighorn sheep to help hold them down while game and fish personnel gather samples. My first year at the capture Will Schultz, who was the game biologist at the time, asked if I wanted to touch the sheep and get my picture taken. Of course! Anybody who knows me won’t be surprised that I took my gloves off when holding the ewes so I could feel their soft fur.
If I had liked science more while in school and college, I may have become a game biologist. At least I get to sometimes live vicariously as one while being a news reporter.
Further Bighorn Sheep News
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department in partnership with the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckleshaus Institute is announcing a public engagement process to explore management concerns, issues, and opportunities for the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd.
A situation assessment was recently completed and dates for a series of public workshops and a “Bighorn Sheep Summit” have been set. Game and Fish encourages all those interested in this herd to attend the Summit. People will meet with bighorn sheep specialists from around the country to chart a path forward for this iconic bighorn sheep herd.
This herd has struggled to recover from a catastrophic all-age die-off caused by pneumonia in 1991. The disease caused an estimated 30% decline in the number of sheep. The herd continues to stay below the desired population size. This is because lamb survival is very low, likely due to the persistence of lamb pneumonia. At one time, there were an estimated 2,500 sheep in this population; today there are about 750.
“The bottom-line is, we simply don’t have all the answers how to turn this important bighorn sheep population around,” says Daryl Lutz, Lander’s wildlife management coordinator. “There is much to be learned how to best address this decline and perhaps implement management strategies and projects to attempt to arrest and reverse this trend,” says Lutz. “To do this, it is clear we must consider a different approach.”
All collaborative workshops will be held in Dubois at the Headwaters Arts and Conference Center (20 Stalnaker Street) from 6:00 pm- 9:00 pm each of the following evenings:
February 11 – Public workshop to summarize the situation assessment and exploration of issues.
March 14 – Bighorn Sheep Summit – discussion with “outside” experts about technical and scientific information regarding disease, predation, habitat and other aspects of this bighorn sheep herd.
April 3 – Public workshop to craft solutions to improve herd conditions.
June 5 – Public workshop to present draft strategy for public input, discussion, and refinement.