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Wyoming Sheep Transplant Planned For This Winter

October 21, 2009.

From Wyoming Game and Fish:

The Ferris/Seminoe bighorn sheep herd will receive a boost this winter when Wyoming Game and Fish officials release approximately 60 bighorn sheep from Utah and Oregon in the area.

Although previous attempts to supplement this herd have not been as successful as hoped, Game and Fish officials are changing strategies and focusing on obtaining sheep from areas with habitats more comparable to the Ferris/Seminoe region.

Between 1957 and 1985, 236 bighorn sheep from Whiskey Basin above Dubois were released in the Ferris/Seminoe area via six different releases. No releases have occurred in the past 24 years, and WGFD biologists believe that less than 20 sheep remain in the herd.

"Sheep released in the Ferris/Seminoe area have been brought in from the Whiskey Mountain herd," said WGFD Bighorn Sheep Coordinator Kevin Hurley. "These sheep were adapted to different ecological conditions (e.g., alpine-adapted, seasonally migratory, late lambing chronology) than conditions found in the Seminoe Mountains, and those differences may have contributed to poor lamb survival and limited population performance. This time we are getting sheep from areas with similar ecological conditions, in the hopes that this release will be more successful."

Working with Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife, WGFD plans to pick up 20 sheep net-gun captured from the Diablo Mountains of south-central Oregon in December. GPS radio collars will be placed on most adult bighorns and the sheep will then be transported to the Ferris/Seminoe area for release. WGFD personnel will use data collected from radio collars to determine movements and habitat use to decide where to release the next batch of bighorns.

In mid-January, this time working with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, WGFD plans to pick up 40 additional sheep captured from Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. Half of these sheep will be radio collared before release.

"We chose these source-sheep based on the type of habitat they are adapted to," said Hurley. "These sheep should lamb earlier in the spring than did sheep from the Whiskey Mountain herd. Earlier lambing will coincide with peak vegetative green-up in the Ferris/Seminoe Mountains. Lambing during peak green-up should increase the nutritional status of females during the period they are nursing their lambs. Mothers in better condition should result in more lamb survival and more sheep on the mountain down the road. Earlier releases attempted to fit 'round' sheep into 'square' habitat; we feel these releases will more successfully fit source-sheep into target habitat."

In recent years WGFD has successfully implemented this tactic of matching transplants with habitat at the release site in supplemental releases at Devil's Canyon above Lovell. Kick-started in 1973 with a release of 39 bighorns from Whiskey Basin, 30 years later, 50-60 sheep remained in the herd. In December 2004 and January 2006 this herd was supplemented with 40 sheep adapted to similar habitat conditions. Today this herd is estimated at around 175 animals.

The entire project will cost approximately $150,000, most of which is already secure. Partnering with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in the project are the Wyoming Governor's Big Game License Coalition, the Wyoming and Eastern Chapters of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the Wild Sheep Foundation, and the Grand Slam Club/Ovis.

"This supplemental release has been a long time coming, almost a quarter century," said Hurley. "We're glad to see this project finally coming to fruition and will be glad to see more bighorn sheep in the Ferris/Seminoe country."

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