Bighorn Sheep Return to Park Range

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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) has transplanted Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to Red Canyon at the foot of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. This area is located in the Routt National Forest west of Walden and northeast of Steamboat Springs.

"This is traditional habitat for the bighorn and it's great to take part in bringing them back to the area," said DOW Area Wildlife Manager Susan Werner.

A group of 26 bighorn sheep was captured on the Forbes Trinchera Ranch in the San Luis Valley. The sheep were transported and released on Friday, Jan. 28 on private land in the Red Canyon area.

"We are pleased to have captured and released nine rams as part of this first group of sheep," said DOW District Wildlife Manager Kirk Snyder.

Several of the sheep were equipped with radio-transmitting collars, which will monitor the herd's movements. DOW biologists will use both air and ground surveillance to track the sheep as they move to higher ground within the Routt National Forest during the spring and summer months.

DOW biologist Jim Hicks noted that bighorn sheep were abundant in the Park Range and Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area until European settlers arrived. Subsistence hunting, habitat changes and disease finally eliminated the bighorn sheep in the area in the mid-1900s.

"The Ute Indians historically burned most of the Park Range until the 1880s," said Hicks. "Lack of fires since that time allowed open terrain to become timbered, reducing sheep habitat and closing migration routes."

The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is a majestic animal that serves as Colorado’s official mammal. Rams can weigh between 200 and 250 pounds, with their massive curling horns accounting for nearly 10 percent of their total weight.

The bighorn rut occurs in the late fall, when the rams butt heads to assert dominance and increase their chance of breeding. Females typically breed first at three years of age, but rams are considerably older when they finally achieve sufficient status to mate. Lambs are born in May and June.