As bighorn sheep herds continue to falter across the West, states search for ways to prevent the massive die-offs. For Wyoming, that means focusing on the Whiskey Mountain herd—a bighorn sheep herd that has been struggling for decades. In May, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that 1,431 acres of winter range would be set aside for this herd in hopes that providing critical habitat would help the herd rebound. Now, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) officials are partnering with the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckleshaus Institute “to explore management concerns, issues and opportunities” for the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd, Buckrail reports.
As goHUNT previously reported, the iconic herd experienced a massive die-off linked to pneumonia in 1990 and 1991, which decimated nearly half of the herd. Today’s herd is estimated at only about 850 animals, which is nearly 40% under the 1,350-sheep goal set by the state. Biologists believe that the cause is a combination of high fawn mortality coupled with poor nutrition, hence the Interior’s decision to renew the mineral withdrawal for critical winter range.
“The bottom-line is, we simply don’t have the answers how to turn this important bighorn sheep population around,” says Daryl Lutz, WGFD’s wildlife management coordinator. “There is much to be learned how to best address this decline and perhaps implement management strategies and projects to attempt to arrest and reverse this trend. To do this, it is clear we must consider a different approach.”
With details as to what that approach will be still under wraps, WGFD and its partners hope to get started with an assessment in late summer or early fall before holding workshops geared toward strategizing how to best approach the situation. Workshops will be open to anyone interested in saving the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd as well as bighorn sheep specialists from around the country, according to Buckrail. More details on the workshops will be available later this fall. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more, contact Daryl Lutz at 307-335-2616.