Colorado DOW to Study Black Ridge Desert Bighorn Sheep

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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will begin a multi-year monitoring project on the Black Ridge desert bighorn sheep herd in December. Biologists hope to capture, assess and radio collar 20 to 25 of the sheep as part of the study.

The goal of the study is to determine survival data, causes of mortality, habitat selection and usage, and interaction with other desert bighorn sheep herds in western Colorado and eastern Utah.

"The information we gain from the study will not only help improve management of this particular herd, but it may also provide valuable information that could apply to other desert bighorn populations in the state," said Stephanie Duckett, DOW area terrestrial biologist.

The Black Ridge herd moves readily through the rocky canyons of the Colorado National Monument and McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. The sheep also utilize adjoining private and federal land. Biologists with the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management have provided support for the study design.

Funding for the study is provided jointly by the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Society, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, bighorn sheep auction and raffle funds and the DOW. Sportsmen, whose license dollars provided funding for this project, were also responsible for supporting the reintroduction of desert bighorn sheep into Colorado over the past 30 years.

To capture the sheep, biologists will utilize drop nets and helicopter netting depending on the topography and weather conditions. Helicopter capture will not be used inside the boundaries of the Colorado National Monument and the helicopter will not land in the Black Ridge Wilderness Area.

"While there may be brief disturbances for recreational users in these areas," explained Dean Riggs, area wildlife manager for the DOW. "We think most users will agree that the benefits to the bighorn sheep herd will far outweigh the temporary noise and potential for a few extra folks in the area."

The DOW is aware of the sensitive wilderness and National Park lands within the study area. Capture participants will utilize the least invasive methods possible.

Volunteers will be used to help distribute information to recreational users in the area.

Bighorn sheep are one of Colorado's most popular watchable wildlife animals. Bighorn sheep are widely scattered throughout Colorado and are fall into two categories. The more common Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) is found in steep, grassy habitats throughout Colorado, while the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) is found in extreme western Colorado. Desert bighorn sheep are generally a lighter color and slightly smaller than Rocky Mountain bighorns. Desert bighorn rams generally have a wider spread to the horns.