Utah Wildlife board approves specific unit plans to help bighorn sheep
Bighorn sheep populations have been faltering in the West, leading to changes in state management plans. In Utah, where Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn sheep roam, that means creating specific management plans for regions where these animals live. Last month, the Utah Wildlife Board approved 18 unit management plans—11 for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and seven for desert bighorn sheep—that will focus on increasing the overall population from 4,150 to 8,850 bighorn sheep, The Times-Independent reports.
The approved plans include “proposals for how to increase the population in each area in a sustainable way,” said Faith Jolley of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR).
“There has been some struggle with our bighorn sheep populations recently because of respiratory disease,” Jace Taylor, UDWR’s bighorn sheep and mountain goat biologist, told The Times-Independent. “Part of our objective is to expand bighorn sheep populations where possible, and to maintain the overall population in a sustainable and healthy way across Utah to provide quality opportunities for wildlife viewing and hunting.”
Bighorn sheep objectives for each unit will differ based upon the amount of “available habitat, water supply” and overall space; however, there are also additional habitat projects included for some of the units, which biologists hope will help increase habitat for bighorn sheep to thrive. Additionally, UDWR biologists will be testing bighorn sheep herds in each unit for respiratory disease, including Antelope Island, according to The Times-Independent.
As goHUNT previously reported, disease killed nearly all of Antelope Island’s 150 wild sheep last year and forced UDWR to lethally remove the remaining 26 bighorn sheep to ensure the disease would not spread. Based upon the newly approved unit management plan, UDWR plans to release about 35 wild bighorn sheep on the island in January to repopulate the herd and hope to “grow a healthy population of 125 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep” over the coming years, according to The Times-Independent. Other unit management plans include increasing bighorn populations in Book Cliffs South from 230 to 450 and from 220 to 300 in La Sal, Potash/South Cisco.