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Utah Restores Desert Bighorns to John's Canyon

February 8, 2008.

From the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources:

Wildlife biologists recently captured 30 desert bighorn sheep and placed them in a new home.

Photo: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The Division of Wildlife Resources captured the sheep at several sites in southeastern Utah. After capturing the sheep, the biologists transplanted them to John's Canyon, a tributary of the San Juan River. The river empties into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell.

DWR Wildlife Manager Bill Bates says wild sheep once lived in John's Canyon but were extirpated decades ago. The recent transplant is the first step in bringing sheep back to the canyon. The biologists collected surplus animals from healthy herds near Green River and Moab, and then trucked them south.

Bighorns inhabit steep, rocky terrain that is best accessed by helicopter. The DWR contracted Pathfinder Helicopter Services for the capture project.

Sheep were located by flying over terrain where good-sized populations are known to occur. Once the sheep were located, the capturers fired a net from the helicopter that entangled the animals. The captured sheep were then secured in a nylon sleeve and flown to a staging area for a health inspection, and then transfer to a horse trailer. After collecting a trailer full of sheep, the woolies were trucked to their new home near the Utah-Arizona border.

The new herd consists of five rams, 22 ewes and three lambs. The habitat in John's Canyon is similar to the habitat in the areas they were taken from. The canyon features craggy cliffs and a permanent water source. With some luck, the herd should grow to its former size.

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