Ten bighorn sheep from the National Bison Range in Western Montana were translocated to Washington’s Hall Mountain near Sullivan Lake on Friday.
The yearlings – eight ewes and two rams – were fitted with GPS collars before being released near Noisy Creek Campground to boost bighorns that have roamed in the area for 44 years.
State and tribal wildlife biologists say they hope the Montana bighorns will hook up with some 20 existing Hall Mountain bighorns that had evaded attempts to capture and collar them in the past year.
By tracking the collars of the released bighorns, researchers will try to determine where the wild sheep roam and the habitat they prefer, said Dana Base, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.
The bighorns were released after being declared pneumonia-free from blood samples sent to the Animal Disease Diagnostics Lab at Washington State University, he said. Pneumonia has caused die-offs of bighorns in some areas of Montana, Washington and Idaho.
Historical writings dating back to 1889 indicate that bighorn sheep were native to Pend Oreille County but had been killed out. They were reintroduced to Hall Mountain in 1972. The reintroduced sheep appear to have been dwindling in recent years.
“An new study is being implemented by the Kalispel Tribe to determine how the sheep in Pend Oreille County use the landscape and how much they co-mingle with the sheep in British Columbia,” said Bart George, tribal wildlife biologist.
Timing was good to get bighorns from Montana as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was eager to reduce the herd of about 170 bighorns within its game-fenced Bison Range near Moiese, Montana.
“What a wonderful turnaround from one year ago,” said Tommy Petrie, president of the Pend Oreille Sportsmens Club, noting that the state had been using Hall Mountain sheep to boost other herds in the state.
The club and the Kalispel Tribe split the cost of providing the GPS collars, Base said.
“We applaud WDFW for being resourceful to give our herd a boost, while taking steps to learn more about the Hall Mountain Herd and how the population utilizes the landscape and intermingles with the sheep just across the Canadian border on the Kootenay Pass,” Petrie said.
Washington Fish and Wildlife also translocated 11 bighorns from the Bison Range to the Tucannon River area last week to introduce new genetics and boost numbers.
The Tucannon bighorns in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington had dwindled to 21 despite additions of 20 wild sheep over the past two years, said Rich Harris, Fish and Wildlife Department special species program manager.
Biologists suspect inbreeding and predation have resulted in few lambs surviving into the herd, he said.
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