North Dakota

bighorn sheep status in North Dakota

by North Dakota Outdoors and beyond on 7 Oct 2008

The bighorn sheep population in North Dakota’s badlands is thriving, according to Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for the state Game and Fish Department.

An August-September survey in western North Dakota showed 316 sheep. “We count all sheep during the summer survey, and numbers signify our population is in excellent shape,” Wiedmann said. “Including the number of bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park our total reaches 350 animals.”

Survey results revealed 93 rams, 162 ewes and 61 lambs, for a 9 percent increase in the total number observed from 2007. “We counted 232 sheep in the northern badlands and 84 in the southern badlands,” Wiedmann said. “We have more work to do in the south to get to where we were before the die-off in the late 1990s, which was 130 sheep.”

The goal for the southern badlands is 125 sheep. The 84 counted this summer is 11 percent higher than last year, which means the sheep population is moving in the right direction. “We can’t compare the numbers from the two areas because the 11 herds in the northern badlands have a lot more habitat and better conditions than the five herds that occupy the southern badlands,” Wiedmann said.

The 61 lambs was a record, surpassing the mark of 60 in 2005. “The lambs were big and healthy, and are already 3-4 months old, which means they are mature enough to have a really good chance of survival,” Wiedmann said, while mentioning predators and other dangers tempt the fate of newly-born lambs.

While all the sheep look healthy, Wiedmann was especially impressed with the herd transplanted from Montana. “They are big, robust critters,” he added. “We were confident they would do well, and they continue to surpass our expectations.”

The herd is the largest in the state, Wiedmann said, and the 70-80 percent lamb recruitment success is phenomenal. “We might have to pull some out this winter and distribute them to the southern badlands,” he said.

The annual summer bighorn sheep survey begins in early August and takes about 45 days to complete. “The most cost effective and efficient way to obtain the best data is the method we use,” Wiedmann said. “We radio-collared two to three sheep in each herd, locate them from an airplane, and then hike into each herd and count them by using a spotting scope and binoculars. It is very labor intensive.”

North Dakota’s bighorn sheep hunting season opens Oct. 10 and continues through Oct. 26. Six licenses were issued.

Read article at North Dakota Outdoors and beyond

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