Montana/Dakotas

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Cooperative Efforts Help Bighorns Thrive in North Dakota 

Story and photos by Tim Zachmeier, North Dakota FO

bighorn sheep in helicopter sling

 A bighorn sheep gets an aerial view of its future home.

 helicopter preparing to transport bighorn sheep

The bighorn arrives via helicopter.

“Less is more” is a common phrase among bighorn sheep managers across the West.
Because bighorn sheep are less adept at dispersing to other suitable habitats than other ungulates such as elk and mule deer, they are prone to disease when populations grow too large. Consequently, wildlife managers must work to ensure that bighorn sheep populations are kept within the carrying capacity of the habitat and that the genetic diversification remains part of the population equation. 

As part of this effort, the North Dakota Field Office recently assisted the North Dakota Game and Fish Department with several in-state translocation efforts. One ram and five ewes were moved from BLM lands in the northern badlands of North Dakota to Forest Service/private properties in the southern badlands. 

The sheep were captured with a net gun and a helicopter contracted from Leading Edge Aviation of Clarkston, Wash. Each sheep was also fitted with a radio collar and received a series of vaccinations to regulate worms and to control the bacteria Pasteurella, which can infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. 

North Dakota’s bighorn sheep population continues to thrive after a late 1990s die-off that occurred after a single bighorn sheep ram came in contact with domesticated goats utilized for controlling leafy spurge on Forest Service lands. Translocation efforts such as this are paramount to the survival of sheep in North Dakota.