After an all night drive from the John Day River Area in northern Oregon, another 20 bighorn sheep have been relocated some 900 miles from their original home to Wyoming's Seminoe Mountains.
According to WGFD bighorn sheep coordinator Kevin Hurley, the new transplant will supplement 20 Oregon sheep released Dec. 2, 2009, in the Seminoes along with 12 bighorns from the Devil's Canyon area above Lovell released Jan. 3, 2010. Hurley said the sheep released last year are doing well and at least a dozen lambs were documented this spring from last winter's transplant.
Wildlife managers have set an objective of 300 bighorn sheep for the Seminoe and Ferris Mountains herd unit. It is expected the herd size will be 75 animals after lamb births in spring 2011.
Typically, biologists try to get a 3:1 gender mixture for transplanted bighorn sheep. Last year's transplant from Oregon's lower Deschutes River comprised 15 ewes and five rams; rams transplanted are generally young animals ranging from 1-4 years old. This year's transplant included 14 ewes, two female lambs and four young rams (three yearlings and one two-year-old). The sheep are selectively trapped with use of a helicopter and net-gunning technique.
Hurley said that much of the success to date in the Seminoe herd is likely due to a better match of habitat types of transplanted sheep to the habitat available in the Seminoe Mountains.
Years ago, sheep from the Whiskey Mountain herd near Dubois were transplanted to the Seminoes, but didn't do as well as anticipated, probably due to significant differences in elevation, precipitation and vegetation between Whiskey Mountain and the Seminoes.
"With the Oregon sheep, we are trying to do a better job matching source sheep to target habitat," Hurley said. "The Whiskey Mountain sheep were from alpine habitat, but the Oregon sheep are from areas more similar to the Seminoes. "We want sheep that fit the habitat we are trying to fill."
Fifteen of the transplanted bighorns (12 ewes, 3 rams) were radio-collared with store-on-board GPS collars. This will allow biologists to closely monitor these released sheep to better determine seasonal and daily movement patterns and habitat preferences.
Hurley hopes the transplant will provide long-term benefits to hunters. If we have a huntable surplus we would sure like to offer some hunting opportunity down the road. How soon that will be depends on how this herd performs," Hurley said.
"Funding for the project has been provided by numerous partners," said Lander regional wildlife management coordinator, Tom Ryder. These include the Wyoming Governor's Big Game License Coalition; Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board; and the Wyoming, Eastern and Midwest Chapters of the Wild Sheep Foundation." In addition, the department has been assisted by the Bureau of Land Management Rawlins District, Bureau of Reclamation, Carbon County Predator Management District and local landowners.