Desert Bighorn sheep release

Two groups of sheep were gathered from near Yuma and Quartzsite and relocated to the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

It has been more than two months since a bighorn sheep mortality has been reported, and since their reintroduction into Catalina State Park, five lambs have been born, according to the reports last week.

Though the process is fluid and can change or be altered at any time within the coming months, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is currently in the process of planning to add an additional 30 sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains in November, according to Joe Sacco, a field supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“If we are able to do the release in November, we’ll get 30 sheep,” Sacco said. “We’re looking at getting them from the region six area.”

The region six area is near Canyon Lake, which is about 50 miles east of Phoenix.

Of the sheep they have planned to relocate, 65 percent will be ewes, with the remaining population being yearlings and males.

“We’re planning, we’re doing all of our work and planning for a release in November,” he said. “But could that change between now and November? Absolutely. If we don’t do that planning now, if we wait until we know for sure we’re going to do it, we wont be able to get it done.”

Though the decline in the bighorn sheep’s population happened a little quicker than officials expected, the survival of the five lambs this far has been a surprise.

This is because females with new lambs are especially sensitive to disturbance.

Due to this, trail restrictions have been put in place inside the Bighorn Sheep Management Area to minimize any negative impacts from human disturbance on the sheep. During the course of this reintroduction project, 16 bighorn sheep have died, with 14 being killed by mountain lions, one died by either a small mountain lion or a bobcat, and another died due to myopathy from the release.

Three mountain lions have been killed in association with the deaths of the bighorn sheep, which launched a public outcry in support for the mountain lions during the early months of the project.

“There’s a lot of interest in the community and a lot of passion and that’s a good thing,” Sacco said. “Whenever people are interested in the outdoors and stuff that we do, that’s a good thing.”

The Bighorn Sheep Advisory Committee, tasked with creating and outlining this project, is comprised of people from the Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, The Wilderness Society, a sportsman representative, the Sky Island Alliance, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Finding a lot of good within this project so far, Sacco believes the people on the advisory committee coming together for this project is one of the bigger accomplishments and milestones.

“Working across the table with the environmental community along with sportsmen, and getting that collaborative effort together has been outstanding. That has definitely been a success.”

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