Spring Bighorn Sheep Survey Shows Healthy Population

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Western North Dakota’s bighorn sheep population is in good shape, based on observations during the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual bighorn sheep survey in March.

Brett Wiedmann, department big game biologist in Dickinson, said biologists counted 282 bighorn sheep – 93 rams, 147 ewes and 42 lambs. This year’s total represents a 9 percent increase from 2007 and 33 percent higher than the five-year average.

In addition, the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park was holding approximately 25 sheep.

“Following a major die-off in 1998 that decimated our population to only 130 animals, it has been our objective to once again reach and maintain a minimum of 300 bighorns in the state,” Wiedmann said. “We are very encouraged to have reached our goal this year.”

Each summer, typically in August, Game and Fish Department biologists count and classify all sheep. The following March, the spring survey is conducted for biologists to go back and recount lambs to determine lamb recruitment.

“We need to check on their health after the winter,” Wiedmann said while noting the first year is vital for survival because of predators and winter conditions. “Since last fall’s survey, lamb recruitment was 33 percent, about average for North Dakota. We also found there were about 63 rams per 100 ewes. We are in good shape.”

The population level appears to be an indication of how many apply for the opportunity to hunt bighorn sheep in the badlands. “Just look at the numbers,” Wiedmann said. “Our bighorn sheep population is larger than it has been in a number of years, and this year we had a record number of applicants (more than 10,000) that put in for the five sheep licenses. Encouragingly, we have significant number of young rams, so once they mature a bit, we also hope to reach our goal of issuing eight licenses annually.”
 – North Dakota Game and Fish Department –