Bighorn sheep return to Gore Canyon
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Few longtime residents from Kremmling’s distant past can recall seeing bighorn sheep on the steep walls of Gore Canyon.
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ” the official state animal ” were in Gore Canyon as early as 1839 and were prominent through the early 1900s.
But wildlife managers believe factors such as hunting and disease played a role in their decline.
In an effort to instigate a comeback for the species, DOW wildlife managers recently released 14 bighorns into the rugged canyon country that overlooks the Colorado River.
The bighorn sheep released in Gore Canyon west of Kremmling last month were trapped on the Basalt State Wildlife Area and transported to the release site in livestock trailers, according to wildlife officials.
Two rams and one lamb were transported along with the group of female sheep (ewes) ” key to establishing the herd.
It is unknown how many of the ewes might be pregnant, but by transplanting sheep after the late-fall breeding season, wildlife officials have hope for some new lambs in the typical birthing season of May and June.
Wildlife managers have equipped the sheep with radio-tracking devices and will monitor the herd’s movement and health over the next few years.
“We’ll keep an eye on them and see how they do,” said Dean Riggs, DOW’s assistant regional manager for the northwest region. “They don’t have a tendency to range too far, usually. They’ll do a little bit of exploring, but in that neck of the woods, they’re likely to stay put. Time will tell.”
Additional transplants could supplement the Gore Canyon bighorn population in the future, he said.
The Division of Wildlife’s bighorn-sheep projects in Colorado are supported by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
“Thanks to the support of Colorado sportsmen, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have made a comeback in Gore Canyon,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.
Additional funding for projects comes from the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society through that organization’s annual auction and raffle of bighorn-sheep hunting licenses.
“This is a project that a lot of people have been working on for almost 15 years,” said Mike Crosby, district wildlife manager for the wildlife division. “It’s exciting that we finally have sheep on the ground and we hope to have a population in this area for many years to come.”
By reintroducing species to places where they were in the past, wildlife officials “have the tendency to speed up what mother nature might take care of,” Riggs said. “It’s all about perpetuating the species throughout the state.”
The division is finalizing a statewide bighorn-sheep management plan. The document compiles historical and biological information about bighorn sheep in the state and guides management of the species through 2019.
The statewide plan should be available later this month on the division website.
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