Posted January 31, 2014, 2:45 pm
DUTCH JOHN — Bighorn sheep are back on Goslin Mountain.
After their release from a trailer, four Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep race up a slope on Goslin Mountain.
Photo by Ron Stewart
On the morning of Jan. 30, a small herd of 23 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were released at Dripping Springs. The herd includes 13 ewes, five lambs and five rams.
The bighorns were captured earlier that week in Desolation Canyon near Green River, Utah. The sheep were then moved to begin a new herd on Goslin Mountain.
Dripping Springs is at the base of Goslin Mountain, between Dutch John and Little Hole in northeastern Utah.
This marks the second time a herd has been reintroduced into the area.
About 40 years ago, biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began enhancing range along the Goslin Mountain/Green River corridor so Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep could be reintroduced to the area.
In 2001, the range enhancement was given a big boon when a fire near Dutch John cleared away large expanses of pinyon-juniper trees. Following the fire, the UDWR and the USFS were able to reseed much of the burned areas in preparation for the bighorn sheep reintroduction.
The first attempt to start a herd on Goslin Mountain began in December 2004. The new herd was supplemented in January 2007 with bighorns captured in Montana.
Unfortunately, after a quick growth spurt between 2004 and 2007, recruitment leveled off, and then the herd started to lose numbers. During the winter of 2009–2010, biologists learned why.
The biologists observed several animals coughing, so they tested them for disease. They learned the herd was dying from bacterial pneumonia.
To prevent the disease from spreading to other bighorn sheep populations in the area, biologists made the tough decision to eliminate the entire herd.
"Their intervention worked, as the nearby herds did not catch the disease," says Ron Stewart, regional conservation outreach manager for the UDWR.
In 2013, UDWR biologists noted that several bighorn sheep herds in Utah were doing extremely well. In fact, the herds were doing so well that some of them had a surplus of animals.
Biologists reviewed potential supplemental and new reintroduction sites. Goslin Mountain again rated high as a potential site to start a new herd.
UDWR biologists hired helicopter crews to capture animals from the herds near the Green River in Desolation/Greys canyons. After capture crews brought the sheep out of the canyons, biologists gave the bighorns health checks and fitted them with ear tags. Some of the sheep were also fitted with tracking collars before being loaded onto modified horse trailers for their trip north.
"It's good to see bighorns on the mountain again," Dax Mangus, a UDWR biologist in northeastern Utah, said as the captured bighorns were released. "Hopefully, the capture team can catch a few more to bring up later this week."
Dan Abeyta, a USFS biologist, agreed. "I've got my fingers crossed that these [sheep] will do better than the previous herd."
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