Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) recently released California bighorn sheep at two new locations, Cottonwood Canyon State Park and near the John Day Fossil Beds.
Cottonwood Canyon is a new state park in the John Day River Canyon scheduled to open in 2013. While there are a few bighorn sheep in the park’s southern edge, this month’s operation was the first time sheep have been released at the park.
The other release occurred on BLM land, in the Branson Creek portion of the upper John Day River, near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
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.
The bighorn sheep released were first captured from areas where they are more plentiful—20 from around the Lower Deschutes River and 40 from around the John Day River. Twenty each were released at the two Oregon locations.
The final 20 sheep went to the Seminoe Mountains in Wyoming to supplement a release made last year. Wyoming Game and Fish paid for the cost of the capture and transport of these sheep.
Bighorn sheep are native to both areas where they were released in Oregon. The relocations are part of ongoing efforts to restore this animal to its native range.
Bighorn sheep are one of the rarest game mammals in Oregon today. They were extirpated from the state by the 1940s due to unregulated hunting and their susceptibility to domestic livestock diseases. Less than 100 bighorn sheep tags are offered to hunters each year on a “once-in-a-lifetime” hunt basis.
ODFW also auctions and raffles off a bighorn sheep tag each year at events sponsored by sportsmen conservation groups; proceeds from the sales benefit the management of bighorn sheep. Sportsmen conservation organizations like FNAWS also contribute monies to fund bighorn sheep recovery across North America.
A small population of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep live in the Wallowa Mountains; the rest of the animals in the state are California bighorn sheep. ODFW generally relocates 20-80 bighorn sheep annually with the ultimate goal of creating healthy bighorn sheep populations in all available, suitable habitats within Oregon.
source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife