Desert Bighorns To Be Exchanged

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About 30 desert bighorn sheep will be moved to the San Andres Wildlife Refuge this fall in a one-to-one exchange with Arizona for New Mexico's Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The New Mexico State Game Commission approved the transfer of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to Arizona at its June 21 meeting in Ruidoso. The exchange is part of the Department's effort to improve desert bighorn populations here, which are state-listed as endangered. The exchange also was approved by the Arizona State Game Commission.

"Arizona approved a multiple-year transfer of 60 desert bighorn during the next five years," said Elise Goldstein, Department bighorn sheep biologist. "We expect to move 30 sheep to New Mexico this November and the rest later on."

There are currently seven rams, one ewe and one lamb in the San Andres Mountains. The project would transfer mostly ewes from the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona and about 20 rams from the Department's Red Rock facility in November, 2002. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep will be taken from the Pecos or Wheeler herds in the summer of 2003. The removal of those animals will help to keep those thriving herds below carrying capacity.

In a related action, the Commission approved a five-month preventive cougar control program in the San Andres Mountains. The program is intended to aid desert bighorn sheep reintroduction in the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge. Goldstein said that mountain lion predation is a significant limiting factor in New Mexico's desert bighorn sheep populations. The cougar removal program involves contracting lion hunters for at least two months prior to the bighorn reintroduction and five months altogether.

An Environmental Assessment on both the lion control and the bighorn transplant will be completed and available for public comment later this summer.