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Colorado Parks and Wildlife assesses bighorn sheep population on America's Mountain Thursday

Bighorn Rams Charge Larry Marr.jpg
Posted at 7:38 PM, Aug 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-03 21:38:21-04

EL PASO COUNTY, CO — Thursday, members of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and News5 Photojournalist Ryan Mutch made the trek up America's Mountain to better understand and perform an annual assessment of the current Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep population across Colorado.

The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) is one of Colorado's State Emblems and Symbols. The animal was designated as the state's animal on May 1st, 1961 by the general assembly.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are known for their exceptional agility, balance and their iconic horns, often found above timberline in the Rocky Mountains.

"The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is our state mammal, so they are really important animal to us, they are kind of our tier one species," said Tim Kroening, CPW Wildlife Manager. "So we come out every year and do this coordinated ground count to basically survey our bighorn sheep and get a population estimate. Generally, if you look out over this whole landscape out on pikes peak, they're hard to find. They're really hard to find. So it's a challenge."

While you can even find a herd roaming around city limits in Garden of the Gods Park, at one point this dominant animal was close the point of extinction. Diseases from European livestock and overhunting led to the collapse of the population.

According to the National Park Service, when Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, the park hosted a population of 1,000 or more sheep. By 1970 the population within the park was down to 200. A combination of inadequate winter habitat and domestic livestock disease contributed to the decline.

Populations only began to rise following the creation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation Plan. The current model takes nearly 100 years of trial and error conservation efforts beginning in the early 1900's when unregulated hunting took major effects on the North American wildlife.

CPW began efforts to rebuild the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep population in the 1940s with the first sheep transplant. The first transplant, known as the "Georgetown Herd" was accomplished through the use of 250-350 sheep planted in the mountains between Georgetown and Silver Plume. This is still one of the most popular sheep-viewing sites in the nation, according to CPW.

Since CPW began efforts the agency has completed more than 100 bighorn sheep transplants. CPW says a bulk of these restoration efforts took place between the 1970s and 1980s.

The most recent transplant located in northwest Colorado took place in Gore Canyon, which is located north of Vail. Following decades of conservation efforts, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Population has returned to an estimated population of 7,000 animals statewide according to CPW.
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