Summit County’s bighorn sheep population under close watch
Colorado is home to the largest population of bighorn sheep in North America. About 50 of the unmistakable animals have been documented in the Peru Creek area.
Biologists started noticing the bighorn sheep in Summit County in the early 2000s, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Kirk Oldham. These Rocky Mountain bighorns are part of a larger more-established population found on Mount Evans, he said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in the process of developing a management plan for the bighorns in Peru Creek, as well as the estimated 150 bighorn sheep living on Evans.
There are two species of bighorn in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain, which is native, and the desert bighorn, introduced near Colorado National Monument in 1979.
The bighorns typically live in steep, high mountain terrain and graze in meadows, open woodland and alpine tundra.
“Bighorn sheep need good escape cover in rocky terrain where they can get away from predators — adjacent to good grazing and grass quality,” Oldham said.
Unlike elk and deer, which use speed and agility to get away from predators, slower bighorn sheep avoid capture by deftness and balance, Oldham said. Coyotes, mountain lions and eagles prey on bighorns, and a few succumb to accidental falls.
The creation of a herd-management plan will dictate future populations of the local herds, including the ages and gender ratios of the animals.
Biologists said they determine population objectives based on what the habitat can support ecologically, and on what social, political and economic factors dictate.
Comments received from the public about the management of bighorn sheep in the Mount Evans and Peru Creek areas will help shape the management plan.
“From that feedback we will be able to gauge a temperature of where we need to be with our management of bighorn sheep,” Oldham said. “It’s a pretty high-profile species in Colorado and it gets a lot of interest.”
The bighorn herd-management plan will be in place for 10 years and will dictate the number of hunting permits issued for local bighorn populations.
Bighorn sheep hunting is carefully regulated in Colorado, according to the Parks and Wildlife Department. Approximately 100 to 300 sheep are harvested in the state annually.
In 2010, bighorn hunting became permitted in the Peru Creek area. Currently, only one license is held for the bighorn sheep population in this area, Oldham said.
The biologist said as many as 10 hunting licenses could be issued for the entire population of bighorn herds in Peru Creek and on Mount Evans. Right now the demand for licenses in Colorado greatly exceeds the supply, he said.
“We recognize that hunting is not popular with everybody. But we also recognize that it is a recreational opportunity and a primary management tool for wildlife as well,” Oldham said. “Our role is to provide as much opportunity as we can while maintaining a healthy herd, and being sensitive to the other social and ecological considerations.”
Feedback regarding the Parks and Wildlife bighorn sheep management plan is requested by Sept. 8. The online survey can be found at http://www.research.net/s/RBS4DAUplan.
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