Bighorn Release May Lead To More Hunt Ops

When I spoke with ODFW’s Corey Heath earlier this week, the Bend-based wildlife biologist told me he’d recently been out capturing 60 bighorn sheep.

He said that two-thirds were headed to two different sites in Oregon, the other third to Wyoming.

TWO CALIFORNIA BIGHORNS RELEASED NEAR JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS. (MICHAEL DURHAM)

Those 40 stay-at-home California bighorn rams and ewes will help grow two new huntable herds, his agency hopes.

A news release out today says that 20 were released at the new Cottonwood Canyon State Park in the John Day River canyon and another 20 were loosed on BLM land, in the Branson Creek portion of the upper John Day River, near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

The other 20 sheep are headed for Southeast Wyoming; their capture and shipping was paid for by Wyoming Game and Fish, according to ODFW.

The sheep were captured where ODFW says their numbers are plentiful, 20 from along the lower Deschutes, 40 around the John Day.

A helicopter was used to gather the animals towards a net, and then they were ferried by helicopter to where state biologists and vets as well as volunteers from the Oregon Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wildlife Sheep could disease-test the animals and outfit many with transmitters to track their movements.

CAPTURED BIGHORNS BEING FERRIED BY CHOPPER. (ODFW)

As the herds get established in these two locations over the next few years, visitors will find viewing and eventually, hunting opportunities for the sheep, ODFW says.

While bighorns were killed off in Oregon by the 1940s due to livestock diseases and unregulated hunting, they’ve since been reintroduced and have expanded nicely. ODFW says there are now anywhere from 3,500 to 3,700, and annually captures and releases from 20 to 80 “with the ultimate goal of creating healthy bighorn sheep populations in all available, suitable habitats within Oregon.”

AN EWE RACES FOR THE HILLS AFTER RELEASE ON BLM LAND. (MICHAEL DURHAM)

Hunting is by permit only. Almost all the tags are given out through a special drawing, but ODFW also raffles and auctions off a couple. This year’s auction was one by a person who bid $110,000 for a tag while Alfredo Julian of Vancouver, Wash., won the raffle. The raffle raised $62,696.

ODFW POSTED A LINK TO SOME AWESOME VIDEO OF THE RELEASES ON YOUTUBE, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w9-BrYsnVo. (MICHAEL DURHAM VIDEO)

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