No Nebraska Bighorn Sheep Hunt in 2010

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The hunting of bighorn sheep in Nebraska has been suspended for 2010 as a herd tries to recover from a disease outbreak, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

No harvest of sheep will be allowed next year, the Board of Commissioners decided Thursday. Bighorns have been hunted most years since 1998, with 13 sheep taken. Two hunts are scheduled for December.

Bighorn sheep are native to Nebraska but were extirpated in the early 1900s due to habitat loss, disease and unregulated hunting. Four herds have been created by four reintroductions since 1981: the Fort Robinson and Barrel Butte herds in the Pine Ridge, and the Cedar Canyon and Hubbards Gap herds in the Wildcat Hills.

Sheep hunting has been allowed only in the Fort Robinson herd. An outbreak of Pasteurella pneumonia in the spring reduced that herd to its current estimated population of 37.

The Fort Robinson herd began in 1981 with the reintroduction of six sheep and grew to an estimated 130 by 2004. A die-off from pneumonia in 2005 cut that population in half.

The Barrel Butte herd began with the reintroduction of 49 sheep on Bighorn Wildlife Management Area in 2005. Its current population is estimated at 97.

The Hubbards Gap herd began in 2007 with the release of 51 sheep. Its current population is estimated at 82.

The Cedar Canyon herd began with the 2001 release of 22 sheep. It grew to approximately 64 sheep in 2005, but Pasteurella pneumonia cut that number in half in 2006. The current estimate is 45 sheep.