Montana Bighorn Sheep Have New Home in Nebraska
The final release of bighorn sheep captured and transported from Montana has been made in Nebraska's Wildcat Hills, according to Todd Nordeen, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission district wildlife manager at the Alliance office.
Nordeen said a total of 51 bighorns have been released on a private land site south of McGrew. The first release was made Jan. 21 when 20 sheep captured in the Missouri River breaks south of Havre, Mont., were released. The remaining 31 were released Jan. 27 after being captured in the Sun River Canyon near Augusta, Mont.
"Overall, the capture and release project went extremely well, even though the trapping crew s helicopter was grounded for several days due to high winds," Nordeen said.
He said the January releases south of McGrew included 42 adult ewes, seven adult rams and two ram lambs.
The released bighorn herd will expand almost immediately with the lambing season, which usually begins in late April and extends through July. The bighorn breeding season occurs in November and December and the ewes normally give birth to a single lamb. The twin ram lambs and adult ewe transported from Montana are rare for bighorn sheep.
According to Nordeen, bighorn sheep once roamed the Wildcat Hills and the edges of the North Platte River valley, with numerous historical accounts recorded by pioneers and emigrants traveling the Oregon and California trails. Bighorn sheep were expatriated from western Nebraska by about 1900.
The Wildcat Hills release is the state's fourth bighorn re-introduction, with herds also in Fort Robinson State Park, Bighorn Wildlife Management Area southeast of Crawford and Cedar Canyon WMA southwest of Gering and Scottsbluff.
All 51 bighorn sheep released in January carry radio transmitter collars. Chadron State College (CSC) graduate students Jennifer Malmberg and Kristina Kasik already have located the new bighorn herd several times and most of the sheep have remained within one mile of the release site. Malmberg is monitoring the Cedar Canyon herd and will monitor the Wildcat Hills bighorns during her post-graduate research project.
CSC professor Chuck Butterfield accompanied the Commission trapping crews that traveled to Montana to examine, radio collar and test the sheep captured by a helicopter net crew. Each sheep was fitted with a radio collar, blood and DNA samples were taken, and all sheep received vaccinations. All samples are tested to an established, national protocol for bighorn sheep before transport to help reduce stress and maintain the health of the newly released transplants.
Bighorn sheep populations in Montana and other parts of the West are growing and the re-introductions of bighorn into their historical range have received tremendous support from state and federal agencies, private individuals, sportsmen's groups, conservation groups and others.
Bighorn management efforts from capture to release and the continued monitoring of the herd's progress requires the commitment of numerous partners. The Foundation of North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS), Iowa FNAWS, Safari Club International, Grand Slam Club Ovis, Conklin Foundation, Platte River Basin Environments and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Foundation have participated in Nebraska's bighorn management efforts. Since 1998, the sale of lottery and auction hunting permits has raised over $600,000 to help fund the on-going bighorn management program in Nebraska.
"No tax revenues were used for the bighorn sheep capture and relocation project and we are very gratified by the response of private landowners and all of the families and others that joined us for the releases this week," Nordeen said.
The Commission is conducting a bighorn project at Fort Robinson SP this week as well. Biologists will capture and radio collar 25 bighorns to determine the cause of lamb morality, diet selection and movements and distribution for the Fort Robinson bighorn herd.
For more information on Nebraska's bighorn sheep herds, contact the Commission's district office, 299 Husker Rd., (308) 763-2940 in Alliance and the Commission’s popular Web site at www.OutdoorNebraska.org.