A big trap and lots of bait left almost 30 bighorn sheep on Chelan Butte with either a new home, or a fancy new tracking collar. On Feb. 21, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, along with staff from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and volunteers with the Wenatchee Sportsman’s Association and Washington Wild Sheep Foundation, captured 28 sheep and sent 20 of them to a new home in Utah, according to a WDFW news release.
Bighorn sheep are native to parts of Washington but were extirpated in the early 1900s. In 2004, 35 sheep were translocated from the Cleman Mountain herd, in Yakima County, and released in the Chelan Butte Unit of the Chelan Wildlife Area to establish the Chelan Butte herd. Today it numbers approximately 200.
The February capture effort was aimed at checking the health of herd members, collaring some to learn more about their habits and behavior and moving some to a new area in Utah. The bighorns were caught using a trap that looks like a big corral. Bait is placed in the middle, and once sheep are inside eating, a trigger is pulled to drop an encircling tarp wall around the animals.
Because many animals were not needed for this particular operation, twelve of the sheep were released immediately. The other 28 received physical exams and were tested for a variety of pathogens, in an effort to keep bighorns free of the Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae bacteria that can lead to deadly pneumonia, according to the release.
The Stansbury Mountains are home to a small herd of approximately 60 healthy bighorn sheep that were introduced in 2018. By translocating sheep to join this herd, Utah will be able to attain bighorn sheep population goals more quickly, increase genetic diversity and expand the range of the herd.
This translocation benefited both Utah and Washington, as WDFW wants to maintain the Chelan Butte herd at approximately its current size. This helps to limit the spread of respiratory pathogens that cause disease and reduces pressure resources for food and habitat.
More information on bighorn sheep and pneumonia can be found on the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/pneumonia/.
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