North Dakota reports increase in bighorn sheep
North Dakota bighorn sheep numbers are up following the latest bighorn sheep survey completed in March. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD) tallied up a record 347 bighorn sheep in the western portion of the state. That means that the population is up 4% from 2021 and 15% above the five-year average, according to the Grand Forks Herald.
“We were encouraged to see the count of adult rams down just slightly from last year, and adult ewes were at record numbers,” said Brett Wiedmann, a NDGFD big game biologist. “Unfortunately, following a record summer count of lambs, winter survival was only 54%, the lowest level on record and well below the long-term average. The lamb recruitment rate was also near a record low. Nearly six months of harsh winter conditions was the likely cause of poor winter survival of lambs.”
The 347-bighorn sheep tally was comprised of 96 rams, 206 ewes and 45 lambs. Biologists count and classify all of the bighorn sheep during the summer, but recount lambs after one year to determine recruitment rates, according to the Grand Forks Herald. The state is close to its 500-bighorn sheep benchmark as there are roughly 470 bighorn sheep managed by NDGFD, the National Park Service and the Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Division.
“Considering how severe last winter was, we were very encouraged by the results of the 2022 survey,” said Wiedmann.
The big question for sheep hunters? Will there be a 2023 season? NDGFD will decide that on Sept. 1 after the summer population survey. In 2022, the agency issued five licenses and all hunters successfully harvested a ram.